Still plenty of time for big hurricanes

Despite seemingly slow start to the Atlantic hurricane season, forecasters warn some of the most deadly hurricane seasons have begun in August.


"We are using this time to make preparations for what we are being told is going to be a fairly normal hurricane season once it gets here. . . What we have seen previously is that late hurricanes catch people off guard."

—John Robinson, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance

“Calm Before Storms?”

“Hurricane season start is slow, but we're not off hook”

“Don't bank on a tranquil hurricane season just yet”

-- these are just a few of the headlines about the slow start to the Atlantic hurricane season.

“We’re not trying to scare anybody,” said Steve Letro, the meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service in Jacksonville, Florida. “We are just trying to remind everyone of the reality that we have the heart of the season to go.”

So far, the 2009 hurricane season has been slow to start but forecasters warn that we’re not in the clear just yet.

On Tuesday, for the second time this year, Phil Klotzbach and William Gray, of Colorado State University's Tropical Meteorology Project, trimmed their predictions – but just by one tropical storm and one hurricane. They expect 10 tropical storms and predict at least four will become hurricanes.

“Over the last few years a slow season is not very typical; however, in the long-term, the idea of not having a storm show up until August is not unusual,” said Letro.

He recalled the hurricane events in 1983, “There were only four named storms the whole year, and the first storm didn’t show up until August 15.

“You would assume that was a real quiet year, but you wouldn’t want to tell that to the people in Galveston and Houston, Texas.”

The first storm to appear that year was Hurricane Alicia; it drifted slowly over the western end of Galveston Island spawning 23 reported tornadoes and causing tremendous damage to the Gulf Coast.

For 2009, the Weather Research Center (WRC) in Houston forecasts at least seven named storms in the Atlantic Basin with four of these tropical storms intensifying into hurricanes.

“WRC’s Hurricane Orbital Cyclone Strike Index gives the Gulf Coast from Louisiana to Alabama the highest chance of experiencing a tropical storm or hurricane this summer,” according to forecasters.

Louisiana is no stranger to hurricane activity. In 2008, Hurricane Gustav made landfall over Louisiana causing over $20 million in damages, then just a short time later Ike re-flooded the areas beginning the recovery process from Gustav.

Faith-based organizations like Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) are still looking for volunteers to aid in long-term rebuilding efforts in Texas for last year’s hurricanes and in Louisiana and Mississippi from Katrina in 2005.

“We are using this time to make preparations for what we are being told is going to be a fairly normal hurricane season once it gets here,” said John Robinson of PDA. “What we have seen previously is that late hurricanes catch people off guard.”

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, currently on his “Louisisana Working Tour” to promote economic development and job creation in the state, has been awarding grants to individual parishes that will go towards hurricane recovery efforts, hazard mitigation and infrastructure improvements.

“After Gustav and Ike struck, we rejected the idea of creating yet another process filled with bureaucracy to distribute hurricane recovery funds. We’re helping to expedite the rebuilding process by distributing funds to parishes so that officials on the ground can make their own decisions about how best to rebuild and prepare for future storms,” Jindal said.

Chief Long-Range and Hurricane Forecaster Joe Bastardi of the Hurricane Center holds a different forecast for this season. "Anywhere along the United States coast is susceptible to an impact, but the Texas coast early in the season and East Coast from Carolinas northward during the heart of the season are areas that have us worried," he said.

Bastardi points to several factors lowering the overall number of storms; a developing El Niño in the Pacific ocean could have a suppressing effect on the Atlantic activity, strong easterly trade winds across northern Africa will introduce dry air into the Atlantic inhibiting hurricane formation, and cooler water temperatures in the tropics tends to reduce hurricane activity and intensity.

“Tropical storms by nature are creatures of heat,” said Steve Letro.

"Despite the reduced number of storms,” said Joe Bastardi, “we still have the possibility of a major event that could stick out like a sore thumb...which could cause a lot of pain for some people.“

According to Letro, “What defines if a hurricane season is active or quiet is not the number or storms, but whether or not you got hit.“

“That’s the whole point, it only takes one!”

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