Noted US team cuts hurricane forecast for Atlantic
Saturday, September 2, 2006

by Michael Christie

MIAMI, USA (Reuters): The number of hurricanes churning through the Caribbean toward the United States this year is likely to be less than once feared and may even be less than normal, a noted U.S. hurricane research team said on Friday.

The Colorado State University team formed by pioneer forecaster William Gray cut its forecast for the Atlantic hurricane season for a second time and predicted there would be 13 tropical storms with five of them becoming hurricanes.

The new reduction reflected a widespread trend among experts to cut their expectations for 2006 to well below the record number of storms last year -- bringing some relief to millions of American coastal dwellers.

One factor leading to the revisions are indications the El Nino weather phenomenon may take shape in the Pacific in the autumn. El Nino conditions, an unusual warming of Pacific waters, suppress hurricane activity in the Atlantic.

Another factor was a high level of West African dust over the Atlantic, Colorado State University researcher Philip Klotzbach and Gray said in a statement.

"Current conditions in the Atlantic indicate that we will now see a slightly below-average hurricane season with far less activity than was experienced in each of the last two years," Klotzbach said.

In May, the Colorado State University team had predicted the 2006 season would bring 17 storms and that nine would become hurricanes, with winds of at least 74 mph (119 kph). It revised the forecast in August to 15 storms and 7 hurricanes.

Even its latest storm forecast remained above the long-term average of 9.6 storms per six-month season, which began on June 1. But its hurricane prediction was below the average of six per season.


The 2005 season distorted all expectations, with a record 28 storms forming in the Atlantic.

Fifteen of the storms went on to become hurricanes, including Katrina, which devastated the historic jazz city of New Orleans, killed 1,500 people along the Gulf Coast and became the most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history, with $80 billion in damages. Hurricane Wilma at one point was the most powerful Atlantic storm ever observed.

The 2004 season was also unusual. Four successive hurricanes plowed through Florida.

The heightened storm activity triggered fierce debate between climatologists, who suspect global warming is coming into play, and U.S. hurricane experts, who blame a natural multi-year shift in climatic conditions in the Atlantic.

So far this year there have been only five named Atlantic storms, of which one, Ernesto, briefly became a hurricane near Haiti.

Ernesto came ashore in North Carolina on Thursday night and torrential rain was expected to cause flooding throughout the mid-Atlantic states on Friday and Saturday.

The Colorado State University researchers said two of the five expected hurricanes were likely to be intense hurricanes of Category 3 and above on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of storm intensity.

Both of the major hurricanes forecast by Gray's researchers were expected to occur in September.