FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The 2005 hurricane season was so chaotic that it’s unlikely the United States will suffer a similar one for several years, storm prognosticator William Gray said Tuesday.
And “it is statistically unlikely” four major hurricanes will hit the coastline in upcoming seasons as Dennis, Katrina, Rita and Wilma did last year, said Gray, a Colorado State University professor.
That’s the good news.
In an updated forecast for the 2006 season, he continues to project 17 named storms, including nine hurricanes, five intense. That would be considerably more active than the average season of 10 named storms, including six hurricanes, two intense.
Yet it would be significantly slower than the 27 named storms, including 15 hurricanes that made 2005 the busiest and most destructive season on record.
As he did in his December forecast, Gray projects an 81 percent chance a major hurricane will slam the U.S. coastline, while the long-term average is 52 percent.
He predicts a 64 percent chance that a major hurricane will strike the East Coast, including the Florida Peninsula, while the long-term average is 31 percent.
And he forecasts a 47 percent chance a major hurricane will hit the Gulf Coast, between the Florida Panhandle and Brownsville, Texas, while the long-term average is 30 percent. Gray’s Colorado State forecast team also predicts above-average risk that a major hurricane will make landfall somewhere in the Caribbean.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will release its seasonal outlook on May 22. Hurricane season starts June 1 and continues through Nov. 30.
Both Gray and NOAA scientists say the Atlantic basin has entered an era of hurricane intensity that could last another 10 to 20 years because of a natural cycle, where warmer water shifts to the region where storms form and grow.
Also contributing to the “recipe” for an active 2006: La Nina, a cooling condition of the Eastern Pacific Ocean. Although it should be weak, it still could act to promote hurricane formation, Gray said.
Gray noted that four hurricanes ravaged Florida in 2004 and another four bashed the Gulf Coast, including Florida, in 2005 – mostly because of “upper-air steering currents.”
“It was these favorable Atlantic steering currents that caused so many of the major hurricanes to come ashore,” he said.
No matter how active the hurricane season is, most U.S. coastal areas will not see a tropical storm, said Phil Klotzbach, a member of Gray’s research team, who co-authored the latest forecast.
“The probability of landfall for any one location along the coast is very low,” he said. “However, low landfall probability does not ensure that hurricanes will not come ashore, so coastal residents should always be prepared.”