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Atlantic ripe for hurricanes

Forecasters are predicting another above-average hurricane season.

BY HEATHER MOYER | BALTIMORE | May 16, 2005


"Strong winds, heavy rains and tornadoes can spread well-inland."

—Max Mayfield


Forecasters are predicting another above-average hurricane season for the United States.

“We are looking for a season with 12 to 15 named tropical storms, seven to nine of those becoming hurricanes, and three becoming major hurricanes – meaning category three or higher,” said Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) administrator.

Officials from NOAA, the National Hurricane Center (NHC), and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) made the announcement Monday afternoon to kick off National Hurricane Awareness Week.  The speakers all emphasized the same basic advice:  Be prepared.

“Last year reminded us that hurricanes and tropical storms are far more than just a threat to the coastal regions,” said Brigadier General David Johnson, assistant administrator for Weather Services and director of NOAA’s National Weather Service.

“Hurricanes are not just points on a map, they span hundreds of miles and have widespread impact.”

Max Mayfield, director of the NHC, agreed.

“Strong winds, heavy rains and tornadoes can spread well-inland,” he said, noting that flooding and tornadoes occurred from Florida to Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey last season.

Mayfield added that while hurricane forecasting is improving every year, a major lesson learned last year involved the NHC’s forecasting track.  “Our number one lesson learned involves the cone of uncertainty – because we know we can’t predict the exact point of landfall,” he said, referring to the forecast graphics the NHC produces.

“A hurricane is not just one point or a skinny black line.”

This is why the public needs to have a plan, he noted.

“Everywhere I went in Florida last year, I heard the same thing:  people who had a hurricane plan did better than those without a hurricane plan,” said Mayfield.  “So why would someone want to wait until the last minute to plan?”

FEMA Director Mike Brown also spoke about the vast expanse of the United States that was affected last season.

“More than 600,000 square miles were affected by hurricanes last year,” he noted. “FEMA registered and helped 1.7 million people last year, which is four times the number of people FEMA normally gets in an average storm season.”

That increase in assistance could continue for some time.  Vice Admiral Lautenbacher said the shift in above average hurricane activity occurred in 1995, and that it could continue for 10 to 20 years.  “This is a result of our ocean and atmospheric reaction,” he explained.  “More research is needed, and we’re working on ways to improve our forecasting.”

In the meantime, the speakers all agreed that the bottom line for the public is preparation.

“The battle against the hurricane is won now, not when the hurricane comes knocking at your door,” said Mayfield.


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