April 4, 2006 – Philip Klotzbach and William Gray, atmospheric scientists at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, made no change Tuesday from their December forecast for the 2006 hurricane season.
In their report entitled, "Extended Range Forecast of Atlantic Seasonal Hurricane Activity and U.S. Landfall Strike Probability for 2006," the pair predicted 17 named storms, with nine becoming hurricanes. They think that five will become major hurricanes with winds over 111 mph.
The team predicted an above-average major hurricane landfall risk in the Caribbean. However, the team does not put percentages on Caribbean landfalls as it does for the U.S. mainland.
The team said that continued warm tropical and North Atlantic sea-surface temperatures, prevalent in most years since 1995, as well as neutral or weak La Niña conditions create a recipe for greatly enhanced Atlantic basin hurricane activity.
Gray said those factors are similar to those that occurred during the 1964, 1996, 1999 and 2003 hurricane seasons, which had above-average activity. The team predicts that the 2006 season will be slightly more active than those years.
The team predicts 2006 hurricane activity will be 195 percent of normal.
Of course, no year on record topped 2005 — which came in at 275 percent of normal and gave rise to 27 named storms, 15 hurricanes and seven intense hurricanes. The year 2004 had 14 named storms, nine hurricanes and six intense hurricanes.
Gray said it was rare to have two consecutive years with such a strong simultaneous combination of high amounts of major hurricane activity and especially favorable steering flow currents. The historical records and the laws of statistics indicate that the probability of seeing another two consecutive hurricane seasons like 2004 and 2005 is very low.
However, he predicts that hurricane activity will be above normal for the next 15 to 20 years.
The storm names chosen for 2006 are Alberto, Beryl, Chris, Debby, Ernesto, Florence, Gordon, Helene, Isaac, Joyce, Kirk, Leslie, Michael, Nadine, Oscar, Patty, Rafael, Sandy, Tony, Valerie, and William. If the forecasters run out of names — as they did in 2005 — they'll then use the letters of the Greek alphabet.
With the June 1 start of the official hurricane season fast approaching, it's time to start getting ready.
Harold Baker, director of the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency, suggested that residents check their emergency kits and replace items that have expired. He also urged residents to start stocking up on their hurricane food to minimize the financial impact once hurricane season arrives.
Baker said that his agency was meeting Tuesday with Federal Emergency Management Agency officials to iron out details of FEMA's emergency support.
Gray and Klotzbach do not attribute the increased hurricane activity to global warming.
"Seasonal and monthly variations of sea-surface temperature within individual storm basins show only very low correlations with monthly, seasonal and yearly variations of hurricane activity," Gray said.
The team explained in the technical report that comes out at the same time as the summary that the increase in the number of hurricanes is primarily the result of a multidecade increase in the strength of the Atlantic Ocean thermohaline circulation, often called the ocean conveyor belt. The thermohaline circulation is driven by differences in the density of the sea water, which is controlled by temperature (thermo) and salinity (haline.)
The Atlantic saw a very large increase in major hurricanes during the 11-year period from 1995 to 2005, which had an average four major hurricanes per year, compared to the prior 25-year period of 1970 to 1994, which had an average of 1.5 major hurricanes per year.
Gray said that most residents of the United State's southeast coastal region probably do not know how fortunate they were in the 38-year period from 1966 to 2003, when there were only 17 major hurricanes – an average of .45 per year — crossing the U.S. coastline.
In the 40-year period from 1926 to 1965, there were 36 major hurricanes – an average of .90 per year — that made U.S. landfall.
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