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Forecasters up number of storms

Hurricane experts increase the number of predicted Atlantic storms and say there is an above average chance of a major hurricane hitting the U.S. this year

BY PJ HELLER | MIAMI | August 5, 2008

"Based on current and projected climate signals. . . There is a high — about 95 percent — certainty that activity will be in the top one-third historically"

—Tropical Storm Risk

Hurricane researchers Tuesday increased the number of storms they predicted for the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season, calling for a "very active" season with an above average likelihood of a major hurricane making landfall in the U.S.

Forecasters at both Colorado State University in Fort Collins and at Tropical Storm Risk in Britain both issued updated forecasts which raised the number of storms from predictions earlier in the year. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was scheduled to release its latest forecast on Thursday morning.

The predictions came on the same day that Tropical Storm Edouard struck the Texas Gulf Coast with strong winds and heavy rain. It was the fifth named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, which began June 1 and ends Nov. 30. Two of those storms, Bertha and Dolly, became hurricanes.

Researchers William Gray and Philip Klotzbach of Colorado State University upped their predictions, calling for 17 tropical storms, nine of which would become hurricanes. Of those hurricanes, they said five would be "major" or "intense" Category 3 or above with winds in excess of 111 mph. In April and June, they had predicted 15 named storms, eight of which would develop into hurricanes, four of them intense.

Tropical Storm Risk called for 18 named storms, with 10 of them becoming hurricanes and nearly half of those being intense storms. Its earlier reports, in April, June and July, closely mirrored the predictions of the CSU researchers.

An average season calls for 11 named storms, six of which become hurricanes.

"Based on current and projected climate signals, Atlantic basin and U.S. landfalling tropical cyclone activity are forecast to be about 90 percent above the 1950-2007 norm in 2008," TSR said. "There is a high — about 95 percent — certainty that activity will be in the top one-third historically."

TSR said it based its predictions on July-September trade wind speed over the Caribbean and tropical North Atlantic and the forecast August-September sea surface temperature in the tropical North Atlantic.

"TSR anticipates the trade wind predictor having a strong enhancing effect on activity and the sea surface temperature having a small enhancing effect," it said.

Gray and Klotzbach — whose predictions in 2006 and 2007 were wrong — said they raised their predictions "due to a combination of a very active early tropical cyclone season in the deep tropics and more favorable hurricane-enhancing sea surface temperature and sea level pressure patterns in the tropical Atlantic.

"The primary concern with our current very active seasonal forecast numbers is the continued ocean surface warming in the eastern and central tropical Pacific," they said. "Although it seems unlikely at this point, there is a possibility that an El Niño could develop this fall."

But Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman for the National Hurricane Center, said there was nothing unusual about seeing so many storms so early in the season.

"The hurricane season goes from June through November," he noted. "It's not unusual at all to have one or two storms in June and a couple of storms in July. If we're in an above average season, it's not unusual at all.

"It's a misconception to think that we're going to have an above average season but we're still not going to have them [storms] until the middle of August," he said. "Once hurricane season begins, we can have a storm just about any time."

Tropical Storm Risk dismissed global warming as a factor for previous hurricanes, including Dennis, Katrina, Rita and Wilma in 2005.

"The global warming arguments have been given much attention by many media references to recent papers claiming to show such a linkage," they said. "Despite the global warming of the sea surface that has taken place over the last three decades, the global numbers of hurricanes and their intensity have not shown increases in recent years except for the Atlantic.

"Although global surface temperatures have increased over the last century and over the last 30 years, there is no reliable data available to indicate increased hurricane frequency or intensity in any of the globe’s other tropical cyclone basins besides the Atlantic," they said.

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