(May 31, 2007)

Forecasters predict active hurricane season

By Tom Brown
From Reuters

MIAMI (Reuters) - The 2007 Atlantic storm season will be "very active" with a better than 70 percent chance a major hurricane will make landfall on the U.S. coastline, a closely watched forecasting team said on Thursday.

In an updated outlook, the Colorado State University forecasters led by veteran researcher William Gray said the June 1-November 30 season would spawn 17 tropical storms, with nine growing to hurricane strength.

Of those, five will grow into major hurricanes of Category 3 or higher with winds over 110 mph (177 kph), the team said in its forecast, which was unchanged from its April 3 outlook for the season.

The researchers said there was a 74 percent chance at least one major hurricane would hit the U.S. coastline in 2007, with a 50 percent chance that would happen on the U.S. Atlantic Coast and a 49 percent chance on the Gulf of Mexico Coast.

An average season brings 11 tropical storms, with six reaching hurricane wind speed of 74 mph (119 kph) and two growing into major hurricanes.

The long-term average probability of a major hurricane making landfall along the U.S. coastline is 52 percent, according to Gray's group, which added that the average probability of a major hurricane hitting the Gulf of Mexico Coast -- potentially near key oil and gas fields -- was 30 percent.

Other private and government weather researchers have also predicted a more active season than average. But so far none have forecast anything like a repeat of record-breaking 2005, when 28 tropical storms spawned 15 hurricanes, including Katrina which flooded New Orleans and parts of the Gulf Coast.

Despite calls for above-average storm activity, a survey released on Thursday by the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said a high percentage of Americans in hurricane-vulnerable states are ill-prepared to deal with the storms and don't take their potential for destruction seriously.


"Nearly two years after Katrina shocked and horrified the nation, many residents are still unprepared for storms," said Bill Proenza, the National Hurricane Center's director.

"Last year's below-normal hurricane season may have resulted in coastal residents being lulled into a false sense of complacency. This hurricane season promises to be an active one, so it is imperative residents get ready before a storm catches them unprepared."

Speaking at a news conference, Proenza acknowledged that at least some sense of complacency, or "hurricane amnesia" as one official described it, was due to the fact that all leading forecasters erroneously predicted a busy season in 2006, when only 10 storms formed and the United States suffered no hurricane landfalls.

But Proenza and other experts say the disappearance of the El Nino warm-weather phenomenon in the eastern Pacific, which dampened Atlantic hurricane activity last year, lent a greater degree of reliability to this year's forecasts.

Jeff Masters, co-founder of the weather Web site Weather Underground and a former meteorologist aboard the U.S. government's "Hurricane Hunter" planes, said warm Atlantic sea surface temperatures also bolstered the predictions for 2007.

"That's going to be a big plus for hurricanes," Masters told Reuters.

Forecasters say the Atlantic basin is in a long-term cycle of increased hurricane activity that began around 1995 and could last 20 to 40 years, and Masters said there was little reason to expect a repeat of last year's lull.

"We've never had two years in a row of below-normal hurricane activity since we entered this (increased hurricane) phase," Masters said.

(Additional reporting by Jane Sutton)

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