NOAA weighs in with 2009 hurricane forecast
We sure don't have to worry about it for this holiday weekend, but the 2009 hurricane season is approaching, and the government's forecasters have finally published their predictions for the coming season.
Like the corporate and university prognosticators before them, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's experts expect average to slightly-above average tropical activity from June through November.
Specifically, NOAA is predicting nine to 14 named storms, with four to seven becoming hurricanes, and one to three reaching Category 3 or more on the Saffir-Simpson scale.
The long-term averages are: 11 names storms, with six hurricanes, two of them reaching Cat. 3.
They base their estimates on several factors. First is the ongoing high-activity era that began in 1995, and which is expected to continue for another decade or two. That's based on large-scale cycles in the Atlantic basin, including enhanced rainfall over west Africa, warmer Atlantic waters and reduced wind shear over the ocean regions where hurricanes form.
On the other hand, there is a chance that weak El Nino conditions could develop this summer over the tropical eastern Pacific Ocean, a factor that tends to suppress hurricane development in the Atlantic. Cooler-than-normal surface waters in the eastern tropical Atlantic could also tamp down hurricane development there if those conditions persist, NOAA forecasters said.
But while they are not expecting a bad hurricane season, the government meteorologists say Americans should prepare anyway. "Even a near- or below-normal season can produce landfalling hurricanes, and it only takes one landfalling storm to make a bad season," said Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center. Isabel (photo above) was a weakening tropical storm by the time it reached Maryland in 2003, and folks along the bayshore know what that cost them.
More than 35 million Americans now live within the regions most vulnerable to hurricane conditions. "Public awareness and public preparedness are the best defenses against a hurricane," said Commerce Secty. Gary Locke.
First up this year: Tropical Storm Ana. No sign of her yet.