August 20, 2006

Atlantic hurricanes could rev up any time

By Jim Loney

MIAMI (Reuters) - There has been little action in the 2006
Atlantic hurricane season so far, but that may be about to

Max Mayfield, director of the U.S. National Hurricane
Center in Miami, said there are signs of increased activity
near the west coast of Africa, source of the troublesome "Cape
Verde" hurricanes that grow powerful on their long trip across
the Atlantic.

"The bell's going to start ringing here before long," he
said in an interview last week. "There's absolutely nothing
that I know of that is unfavorable (to hurricane development)
in the eastern Atlantic."

Last year's wildly busy Atlantic hurricane season changed
many people's expectations, but it is perfectly normal for the
first two or three months of a season to be fairly quiet.

The storm season runs from June 1 to November 30 and the
worst part of it usually is between mid-August and late
October, with the peak around September 10. The average season
produces about 10 tropical storms, of which six develop into

Last year saw nine storms develop by August 7, on the way
to a total of 28 in a record-shattering season that lasted
until early January. Hurricane Katrina, the 11th and most
destructive storm of the year, hit south Florida on August 25
and New Orleans on August 29, sparking massive flooding in the
Louisiana city and killing more than 1,300 people.

Hurricane Andrew, which was the costliest storm in U.S.
history until Katrina, was the first Atlantic storm of 1992 and
hit Miami on August 24 that year.

"We have a lot of years that don't really get started until
the middle or end of August," Mayfield said.

So far this year, only three tropical storms have formed --
Alberto, Beryl and Chris. Strong wind shear -- the difference
in wind speed and direction at different levels of the
atmosphere -- has disrupted some of the tropical weather
systems that eventually become cyclones.

Mayfield expressed puzzlement as to why the season hasn't
been a little more active.

"We're actually not sure why some of these are not
developing," he said.