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7 hurricanes for 2004?

An above average 2004 Atlantic basin hurricane season — with seven hurricanes, three of which will become major or intense storms — is predicted.

BY PJ HELLER | FORT COLLINS, Colo. | December 6, 2003

"We believe that the United States has entered a new era of enhanced major hurricane activity."

—Philip Klotzbach

An above average 2004 Atlantic basin hurricane season — with seven hurricanes, three of which will become major or intense storms — is being predicted by noted hurricane forecaster William Gray.

“Our analysis of current and projected global atmospheric and oceanic predictors through November indicates that the 2004 Atlantic basin hurricane season will be an active one,“ Gray said. “We expect tropical cyclone activity in 2004 to be about 125 percent of the average season.”

Gray’s forecast called for 13 named storms, seven of which will become hurricanes. Of those seven hurricanes, three will be intense with winds of more than 111 mph, he said.

The long-term average is 9.6 tropical storms, 5.9 hurricanes and 2.3 major hurricanes.

Gray, a professor at Colorado State University who has been forecasting Atlantic hurricane activity for 21 years, also predicted there was a greater probability in 2004 of a major hurricane making landfall somewhere along the U.S. coastline, with the highest likelihood being along the East Coast and Florida Peninsula.

He said the United States has been “extremely lucky” over the past nine hurricane seasons.

“However, this good luck cannot be presumed to continue,” Gray said. “Climatology will eventually right itself and we must expect a great increase in landfalling major hurricanes and hurricane-spawned destruction in coming decades on a scale many times greater than what we have seen in the past.”

Gray’s 2004 predictions came Friday, one day after a rare tropical storm was formed in the Caribbean. That storm, Odette, was moving late Friday night toward Haiti and the Dominican Republic with winds of 50 mph.

The hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.

Gray predicted that there was a 68 percent chance of a major hurricane making landfall along the U.S. coastline, up from the long term average probability of 52 percent.

He said there was a 48 percent chance the storm would make landfall along the East Coast or the Florida Peninsula and a 38 percent likelihood that it would strike the Gulf Coast, from the Florida Panhandle to Brownsville, Texas. Long-term average for those areas is 31 percent and 30 percent, respectively.

Gray’s landfall predictions mirrored his forecast for the 2003 hurricane season.

For the 2003 season, there were 14 named storms (Odette was formed four days after the season officially ended), seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes. The three major storms were Fabian, Kate and Isabel.

Gray last April had predicted 12 named storms, eight of which he said would become hurricanes. He predicted three major hurricanes.

Gray said he will update his forecast on April 2 and May 28, then issue season updates in August, September and October.

Tropical storms are named when winds reach 40 mph. They become hurricanes when winds reach 74 mph.

Gray and his forecast team noted that the last nine years have been the most active for storm activity.

“We believe that the United States has entered a new era of enhanced major hurricane activity, reflective of the high activity during seven of the last nine years,” said Philip Klotzbach, an atmospheric research scientist and forecast team member. “We expect this active tropical cyclone era to span the next two or three decades.”

Gray said the increase In storm activity could not be attributed to global warming.

“Various groups and individuals have suggested that the recent large upswing in Atlantic hurricane activity (since 1995) may be in some way related to the effects of increased man-made greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide,” his report said. “There is no reasonable scientific way that such an interpretation of this recent upward shift in Atlantic hurricane activity can be made.”

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