August 3, 2006

Atlantic Storm Forecast Lowered to Seven Hurricanes

By Jim Loney

MIAMI -- A noted hurricane research team on Thursday reduced its forecast for the Atlantic hurricane season but said it would still be above average with 15 tropical storms, seven of which would become hurricanes.

In May, the Colorado State University team formed by pioneer forecaster William Gray had predicted the 2006 season would bring 17 storms and that nine would become hurricanes.

The CSU forecast, which is updated several times each year, said three of the hurricanes would be "intense" storms of Category 3 or higher on the five-stage Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale. The May forecast predicted five intense hurricanes.

Intense storms have maximum sustained winds of at least 111 miles per hour (179 km per hour).

The forecast was lowered because tropical Atlantic sea surface temperatures are not quite as warm and eastern Pacific waters are warming, which tends to dampen Atlantic hurricane activity, the CSU researchers said in a statement.

"We're not reducing the number of hurricanes because we had only two named storms through late July," Gray said.

Last year produced a record 28 tropical storms, topping the old mark of 21 set in 1933. Fifteen turned into hurricanes and four of those were Category 5, the most destructive type.

Hurricane Katrina, which burst the levees protecting New Orleans, killed more than 1,300 people and caused more than $80 billion in damage, becoming the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history.

The June 1-November 30 season has produced three tropical storms so far. The latest, Chris, was fading as it moved north of Puerto Rico on Thursday.