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New storm forecast released

AccuWeather metereologists released their 2006 Atlantic Hurricane forecast.


AccuWeather metereologists have released their 2006 Atlantic Hurricane forecast, and they want the focus not to be on the number of storms, but on the intensity and likely landfall locations.

Many weather outlets release hurricane predictions for each season, including the famed Dr. William Gray of Colorado State University and the National Hurricane Center. For 2006, AccuWeather predicts that five hurricanes will strike the U.S., with three of them being major.

Yet AccuWeather meteorologist Ken Reeves says his agency's forecast is different because it focuses mostly on intensity and landfall.

"For an example of why that's important, look at the 1992 Atlantic Hurricane season," said Reeves, director of forecasting operations for AccuWeather. "There were seven total storms - six were named. That's well below normal for a given season. Yet until 2004, it was the most damaging year for hurricanes in history, and all because of one storm: Hurricane Andrew.

"It's not the number that sets the tone for the season, it's the intensity and landfall location."

Reeves says AccuWeather aims at giving people an idea of where the greatest threat is and what the number of landfalls may be.

Along with the 2006 prediction, AccuWeather released a graphic of which parts of the U.S. would be most prone to a hurricane this season based on historical data and trends.

"The 2006 season will be a creeping threat," said Joe Bastardi, AccuWeather's chief forecaster.

"Early in the season - June and July - the Texas Gulf Coast faces the highest likelihood of a hurricane strike, possibly putting Gulf energy production in the line of fire. As early as July, and through much of the rest of the season, the highest level of risk shifts to the Carolinas. From mid-August into early October, the window is open for hurricane strikes to spread northward to the more densely populated Northeast coast. At the very end of the season, southern Florida also faces significant hurricane risk."

The graphic shows part of the Carolinas and the northeast and New England area as being at "high risk" of hurricanes.

Several other hurricane predictions have also noted that the eastern seaboard is at a high risk of a major hurricane this year based on historical data showing that in a year after a major Gulf Coast hurricane, the east coast is often hit hard the next year. Reeves said that this season's heightened risk for the eastern seaboard is based on two factors, though.

"Essentially we are in an elevated risk period, it's a multi-decadal cycle that lasts for 20 years or so," explained Reeves. "The last cycle like this went from the 1930s to the 1950s. That's important because there are some signals that point toward the east coast getting hit by more frequent storms in a year where a more elevated cycle exists. The Atlantic shows this trend.

"We've also identified that there is an apparent cycle within the cycle, it correlates to cooling Pacific waters. When we switch from an El Nino to a La Nina situation, there's a shifting of the hurricane track in the Atlantic to the east. We're seeing this cooling now, and the track last season was through the Gulf area."

Reeves said given those factors, this year's hurricane track may shift to the east. "That opens up the eastern seaboard to what could be a more active pattern."

He added that temperatures in the northwest Atlantic are higher than usual for this time of year, which only signifies more that this season's hurricane track could shift further east.

"That warming contributed to the heavy rains and flooding last fall in New England, and even to this latest round of heavy rain there," said Reeves. "That's a by-product of the extra moisture put into the area by that warmer water. The records broken this week were from 1954 - the same year there were three east coast hurricanes."

Yet despite the probabilities of "very high" or "low" for hurricane danger on the AccuWeather prediction graphic, Reeves cautioned the public about thinking a low risk means their season will be hurricane-free.

"'Low risk' doesn't mean 'no risk,'" he said. "There are very few areas on the coast that won't be in the bull's-eye at some point this season."

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