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Expect 'Above-Average' Hurricane Season, Says CSU Team

With 16 named storms, nine hurricanes and five major hurricanes over 111 miles per hour in their prediction, the Colorado State University hurricane team of Phil Klotzbach and William Gray said Wednesday they expect an above-average hurricane season in 2011.

The team predicts that tropical cyclone activity in 2011 will be approximately 175 percent of the average season. By comparison, 2010 witnessed tropical cyclone activity that was 196 percent of the average season.

The long-term average stands at 9.6 named storms and 5.9 hurricanes, with 2.3 of them growing into major hurricanes.

The team also predicts a 61 percent chance of a major hurricane tracking into the Caribbean. The long-term average stands at 42 percent.

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“It takes only one landfall event near you to make this an active season,” Klotzbach said.

Rafael Mojica, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in San Juan, said that long-range statistics show that a Category 1 hurricane hits within 85 miles of the territory every five to six years. A Category 2 hits every 11 years. A Category 3 hits every 20 years; a Category 4, every 36 years; and a Category 5, every 77 years.

“But that does not mean it cannot happen tomorrow,” Mojica said.

Storms get names when they reach 39 mph. At 74 to 95 mph, they’re considered Category 1. Category 2 covers 96 to 110 mph, Category 3, 111 to 130 mph, Category 4, 131 to 155 mph, and Category 5 anything over 155 mph.

Names for this season are Arlene, Bret, Cindy, Don, Emily, Franklin, Gert, Harvey, Irene, Jose, Katia, Lee, Maria, Nate, Ophelia, Philippe, Rina, Sean, Tammy, Vince, and Whitney.

Klotzbach suggested that residents in hurricane-prone areas make preparations.

V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency spokesman Christine Lett seconded that opinion.

“You don’t want to start preparing for hurricane season during hurricane season,” she said.

Preparations include developing a family emergency plan. Lett suggested having a stateside contact person in case phones don’t work in the territory. Additionally, she suggested buying a prepaid phone card in case cell phones don’t work.

It’s also time to start picking up yard debris so you’re not doing it along with other hurricane preparations. Shop now for a battery-operated radio if you don’t have one on hand.

And it’s time to start gathering your emergency supply kit that includes food and water for the entire family for the two to three days it might take for emergency supplies to arrive.

Lett suggested that residents also take responsibility for their own preparation. They should know if and where their house floods, for example.

This Colorado State prediction reduces the number of named storms by one over the team’s December prediction.

“We have reduced our forecast slightly from early December due to a combination of recent ocean warming in the eastern and central tropical Pacific and recent cooling in the tropical Atlantic,” Klotzbach said.

According to Klotzbach, the team is using a new method—which relies on 29 years of historical data—to predict the number of storms that will occur during the June 1 to Nov. 30 hurricane season.

The hurricane team’s forecasts are based on the premise that global oceanic and atmospheric conditions such as El Nino, sea surface temperatures and sea level pressures that preceded active or inactive hurricane seasons in the past provide meaningful information about similar conditions that will likely occur in the current year. The team’s annual predictions are intended to provide a best estimate of activity to be experienced during the upcoming season, not an exact measure.

“We remain – since 1995 – in a favorable multi-decadal period for enhanced Atlantic Basin hurricane activity, which is expected to continue for the next 10 to 15 years or so,” Gray said.

“Except for the very destructive hurricane seasons of 2004 and 2005, U.S. coastal residents have experienced no other major landfalling hurricanes since 1999. This recent 9 of 11-year period without any major landfall events should not be expected to continue,” he said.

Five years since 1949 exhibited February and March characteristics most similar to the oceanic and atmospheric features observed during February and March 2011 of this year. They are 1955, 1996, 1999, 2006, and 2008. All years but 2006 had either neutral or La Nina conditions during the hurricane season, and all years but 2006 were very active hurricane seasons.

For more on hurricane preparation, visit www.vitema.gov or the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s website at www.ready.gov.

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