April 27, 2011

Multiple Hurricanes Predicted To Hit US This Season

Weather Services International (WSI) predicts 15 named storms this season, with 8 becoming hurricanes and at least 4 of them a category 3 or greater in strength on the five-level Saffir-Simpson scale.

Major hurricanes with winds of 111 mph or more pose the greatest risk to gas and oil platforms. These powerful storms are able to uproot trees, crush poorly built houses and cause widespread power outages, according to the National Hurricane Center.

A leading private forecaster says that several powerful storms will likely hit the U.S. mainland, particularly in the oil-rich Gulf of Mexico area.

The Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 through November 30, are closely watched, since they threaten the oil and natural gas interests in the Gulf of Mexico and the agriculture in the South.

Behind Brazil, Florida is the 2nd largest citrus producer; and the Gulf outputs 31% of U.S. oil and 43% of refining capacity, reports Bloomberg.

"We do expect another active season in 2011, although not to the level of 2005 or 2010," says WSI chief meteorologist Todd Crawford, adding that WSI forecasters "expect a much more impactful season along the US coastline."

The most active season on record occurred in 2005 when hurricanes Katrina and Rita ripped through the Gulf Coast, killing more than 1,800 people and causing $91 billion in damages. These hurricanes destroyed 115 energy platforms in the Gulf and shut down 95% of Gulf oil production and 30% of U.S. refining capacity, Bloomberg says according to government reports.

As a result gas prices soared as high as $5 per gallon, with shortages reported all across the South.

In 2008, Louisiana and Texas in the U.S. Gulf Coast were hit with Hurricanes Dolly, Gustav and Ike. Since then no hurricane has yet to make landfall on the U.S. mainland. This unusual three-year drought has not been witnessed since the 1860s.

Hurricane Earl came the closest to the U.S. It grew to a Category 4 hurricane, but stopped about 100 miles off the coast of North Carolina and southern New England in September of last year.

"The hurricane drought in 2009 and 2010 is relatively rare in the record," Crawford says. "In fact, the U.S. has not had a three-year stretch without a hurricane landfall since the 1860s.

Our recent good fortune in avoiding landfalling hurricanes is not likely to last."

A previous forecast in December predicted 17 named storms, nine of them hurricanes and five would become possible intense hurricanes.

The change in the number of storms predicted was revised due to the cooling of the tropical Atlantic sea surface and the early weakening of the La Nina event, says Crawford.

La Nina is associated with cooler than normal waters in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, and this phenomenon fosters the formation of hurricanes.

Crawford says that the pockets of low pressure in the Atlantic helped to shield the U.S. East Coast from direct hits last year, but are not expected to be present later this summer when storm activity intensifies.

Instead, the WSI says that the particularly warm sea surface temperatures in the Gulf and Caribbean will aid in the development of storms in this region, but "less in the eastern tropical Atlantic."

"Storms developing in the Gulf and Caribbean are a much greater threat to make landfall along the US coast than those that develop off the coast of Africa," says Crawford.

The third busiest Atlantic storm season occurred in 2010, with 19 named tropical storms over the Americas and the Caribbean, and 12 of them became hurricanes, reports AFP.

2010 Atlantic storm season contributed to devastating flooding and mudslides throughout Central and South America that caused massive damage and extensive loss of life.

Forecaster at Colorado State University has predicted 16 named storms this year, with nine of them forming in the Atlantic and developing into hurricanes.

U.K. forecaster Tropical Storm Risk predicted 14 named storms, 8 of them turning into hurricanes.

According the WSI, the forecast numbers resemble the 2008 season when Louisiana and Texas were hit with three hurricanes "“ Dolly, Gustav and Ike.

Image Courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC


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