FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Two teams of hurricane experts dramatically altered their seasonal outlooks this week – for the worse.

Both had projected up to 15 named storms in May. On Friday, noted storm soothsayer William Gray and his staff called for 20 named storms, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Tuesday projected up to 21.

To boot, both Gray and the federal team have heaped two more hurricanes into their seasonal predictions, for a total of 10 and up to 11 respectively.

In other words, both forecasts went from busy to hyperactive.

Why such a big leap?

Simply put, the experts didn’t expect June and July to see an unprecedented number of tropical systems and based their outlooks primarily on August, September and October, normally the busiest months.

“Obviously, the tremendous amount of storm development in June and July caused us to increase our numbers considerably,” said Phil Klotzbach, Gray’s research assistant at Colorado State University.

Further, forecasters initially thought El Nino, an atmospheric condition that inhibits hurricane formation, might come into play. But it didn’t, and instead other factors that nurture hurricane formation continued to strengthen.

Among those: Vertical wind shear decreased, particularly in the Caribbean; Atlantic temperatures warmed about 4 degrees above normal; and West African rainfall was above average in June and July.

Stanley Goldenberg, meteorologist with NOAA’s hurricane-research division, said the fact that Hurricanes Dennis and Emily developed into Category 4 systems indicates “things are ripe” for even more intense systems to form.

“We’re all forecasting a hyperactive year,” he said, noting that “hyperactive” reflects a season at least 50 percent more active than average. “Since 1995, every hyperactive year has had at least one East Coast hurricane landfall.”

An average season has 10 named storms, including six hurricanes, two intense.

Under Gray’s forecast, another eight hurricanes, four major, would emerge by the end of November, as eight systems, including two intense hurricanes, have already formed.

As part of his forecast, Gray predicts three hurricanes in August, four in September and two in October. He projects a 77 percent chance that an intense hurricane, with winds greater than 110 miles per hour, will hit the U.S. coastline in the remainder of the season.

He puts the chance at 58 percent that an intense hurricane will strike the East Coast, including Florida, which already has been slammed by Hurricane Dennis.

Despite a study released last week saying global warming could be responsible for the surge in the strength of storms in recent decades, neither Gray nor Goldenberg agree.

Gray said if global warming played a role, storm activity would have increased in all ocean basins, and it hasn’t. Rather, Gray and other scientists point to a natural cycle of warm water shifting to the Atlantic region where hurricanes form, a cycle that could last another 10 to 30 years.

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Charlene Montford, director of community development for West Palm Beach, Fla., said after last year’s four hurricanes, the beefed up forecasts don’t scare her, but cause concern.

“It’s something we don’t look forward to,” she said Friday. “But we hope to be in better shape this year.”

Meanwhile, Tropical Depression No. 9, which was initially forecast to become a hurricane, unexpectedly weakened as it moved into cooler waters on Friday. It was still predicted to become a minimal Tropical Storm Irene and aim north into the Atlantic without affecting land.



(c) 2005 South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Visit the Sun-Sentinel on the World Wide Web at http://www.sun-sentinel.com/

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-08-05-05 1901EDT


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