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Big hurricane season predicted


An above average Atlantic hurricane season -- with three storms expected to become major hurricanes -- is being predicted this year by forecaster William Gray.

And Gray, an atmospheric scientist at Colorado State University who issues an annual hurricane forecast, warned that destruction from hurricanes this year could be worse than in the past because of population growth in coastal areas.

Gray's forecast called for 12 named storms, seven of which would develop into hurricanes with three of them becoming major or intense storms with sustained winds of 111 miles per hour or more. An average hurricane season has about 10 named storms, six of them hurricanes and two of the classified as major. The hurricane season starts June 1 and ends Nov. 30.

Gray's forecast was downgraded slightly from his earlier prediction issued last December. At the time, he had predicted 13 named storms, eight of them becoming hurricanes with four of them major storms. He said he revised the forecast because of a strengthening El Nino system in the Pacific.

Gray's forecast covers the Atlantic Basin, which includes the North Atlantic, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico. He said there was a 75 percent chance of a major hurricane striking the U.S. coast, although he did not indicate where landfall might come. He did say there was a 57 percent chance of a major hurricane striking the Florida peninsula compared to a 31 percent average over the last century. He also predicted a greater chance of a major storm making landfall along the Gulf Coast from the Florida Panhandle to Brownsville, TX.

Gray said that hurricane activity has been increasing since 1995. Between 1995 and 2001, which he said has been the most active seven-year period on record, there have been 94 named storms, 58 hurricanes and 27 major hurricanes. Only three of the 27 struck the U.S. coastline; typically that average has been one in three.

"We've been extremely lucky," Gray said, adding, "this run of good luck cannot be expected to continue."

Gray's latest forecast was released at the National Hurricane Conference in Florida.

He was expected to update his forecast on May 31 and again on Aug. 7. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was expected to issue its own forecast May 20 during the agency's National Hurricane Awareness Week May 19-25.

Gray's final update last August for the 2001 hurricane season predicted 12 named storms and seven hurricanes, three of them major. The season ended with 15 named storms and nine hurricanes, four of them major.

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