April 2, 2004 – With the start of the 2004 hurricane season on June 1 just two months away, Colorado State University forecaster William Gray and his team came out on Friday with an updated prediction of higher than average activity that would be nearly the equal of last year's actual storms.
"We predict tropical cyclone activity to be about 145 percent of the average season," Gray said in a release, calling the upcoming season above average.
He expects 14 named storms to form in the Atlantic basin. Of these, he predicts eight will become hurricanes, with three of those escalating into intense hurricanes with winds of more than 111 mph.
In Gray's December 2003 prediction for the 2004 season, he had forecast 13 named storms, seven to become hurricanes, and three of those to escalate into major hurricanes.
In 2003, 14 named storms developed. Seven became hurricanes and three reached intense status. None of them hit the Virgin Islands.
The long-term average stands at 9.6 named storms, 5.9 hurricanes and 2.3 intense hurricanes.
The storm seasons running from 1995, the year the Virgin Islands got slammed by both Hurricane Luis and Hurricane Marilyn, to 2003 were the most active nine years on record. Gray said he thinks the 2004 season will continue this trend.
The Virgin Islands hasn't been hit with a hurricane or tropical storm since 1999, when Hurricane Lenny came from the west on Nov. 17. None of the hurricanes that hit between 1996 and 1999 caused anywhere near the damage done by Hurricane Marilyn.
There were a few close calls in that period, and some storms formed near the territory. Additionally, last November's intense and prolonged rains caused many thousands of dollars worth of damage, the equal of a small hurricane.
Gray blamed the problem on a "major reconfiguration of the distribution of the Atlantic thermohaline circulation" that began in 1995. The phenomenon has warmed the North Atlantic sea surface temperature and lowered the tropical Atlantic surface pressure, which has increased the chances of a hurricanes forming.
Gray and his team said they do not think El Niño conditions will form this year as they did in 1997 and 2002. The presence of El Niño factors tends to reduce the number of hurricanes. Gray also said global warming is not a factor.
He doesn't quantify the chances of a hurricane making landfall in the Caribbean but predicts it will be greater than average. He said there is a 71 percent chance of a hurricane making landfall in the United States, considerably above the long-term average of 52 percent. For the mainland East Coast, including Florida, he put the chance at 52 percent, compared to the long-term average of 31 percent. For the Gulf Coast from the Florida Panhandle west to Brownsville, Tex., he sees a 40 percent probability, versus the long-term average of 30 percent.
"We don't know when it will happen, but with the large coastal population growth in recent decades, it is inevitable that we see hurricane-spawned destruction in coming years on a scale many times greater than we have seen in the past," he said.
Hurricane season runs June 1 through Nov. 30. Gray's team will issue updates throughout the season, along with monthly forecasts for hurricane season's peak months of August, September and October.
Hurricane names for the 2004 season are Alex, Bonnie, Charley, Danielle, Earl, Frances, Gaston, Hermine, Ivan, Jeanne, Karl, Lisa, Matthew, Nicole, Otto, Paula, Richard, Shary, Tomas, Virginie, and Walter.
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