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NOAA: Elevated Hurricane Activity Could Last 'Another 10 to 20 Years'

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Hurricane Center (NHC) did everything it could during the lead-up to Hurricane Katrina's landfall on Aug. 29, but the agency vowed that it continues to look for more precise methods on forecasting and landfall predictions.

During a House Committee on Science hearing Friday regarding the NOAA's hurricane forecasting, NHC Director Dr. Max Mayfield confirmed that he did warn officials to be prepared for a Category Five Hurricane in his briefing to the White House prior to Katrina landfall.

Joining Mayfield in testifying in front of the committee was Brigadier General David L. Johnson (ret.), director of NOAA's National Weather Service. The directors told the committee that NOAA will continue its efforts to improve its hurricane track, intensity, precipitation and storm surge forecasting, and work with the agency's partners to ensure the best possible outcome during future hurricane events.

The directors warned that despite the harsh Atlantic hurricane activity so far this year, the season is actually far from over.

"Today is Oct. 7, [which] is hopefully on the downside of this year's hurricane season. To date we've had 19 tropical storms, 10 of which have become hurricanes, five of which have been major hurricanes of Category Three or stronger," Mayfield told the Committee. "This season has already been one of the most active on record and we still have another seven weeks to go."

They also warned that hurricane season trends are cyclical, adding that the country is currently in the middle of an elevated hurricane activity period.

"We believe the heightened period of hurricane activity that we are in will continue due to multi-decadal variations because tropical cyclone activity in the Atlantic is cyclical and tied to fluctuations in sea surface temperatures," Mayfield said.

For example, Mayfield pointed out the 1940s through the 1960s experienced an above average number of major hurricanes, while the 1970s through the mid-1990s averaged fewer hurricanes.

"The current period of heightened activity could last another 10 to 20 years," he said. "These natural cycles are quite large in amplitude with an average of three to four major hurricanes per year in active periods and only one to two major hurricanes during the quiet periods, with each period lasting 25-40 years."

Mayfield also pointed out that there are numerous other vulnerable U.S. cities and areas that could be susceptible to severe damage from hurricane strikes.

"While we must focus our energy on addressing the impacts of Hurricane Katrina, we also need to look at the future," he said. "Katrina will not be the last major hurricane to hit a vulnerable area and New Orleans is not the only location at risk to a large disaster from a hurricane."

The director noted that Galveston, Houston, Tampa Bay, Southwestern Florida, the Florida Keys, Southeastern Florida, New York City and Long Island and "believe it or not," New England, are also vulnerable.

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