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CSU Forecasters Call for Active 2006 Hurricane Season, But Fewer Severe Landfalls

While the United States and a number of its southern neighbors continue to pick up the pieces from the overactive 2005 Atlantic hurricane season, there is mixed news for the 2006 season, according to the Colorado State University forecast team led by Philip Klotzbach and William Gray. According to the team's first extended-range forecast for the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season, the United States faces another very active hurricane season, but with likely fewer land-falling intense hurricanes than in 2005, which the team deemed the "costliest, most destructive hurricane season ever."

The 2006 forecast anticipates 17 named storms forming in the Atlantic basin between June 1 and Nov. 30. Nine of the 17 storms are predicted to become hurricanes, and of those nine, five are expected to develop into intense or major hurricanes (Saffir/Simpson category 3-4-5) with sustained winds of 111 mph or greater.

"Our analysis of current and projected global atmospheric and oceanic predictors through November indicates that the 2006 Atlantic basin hurricane season will be an active one with net tropical cyclone activity about 195% of the average season," Klotzbach said. The 2005 season witnessed tropical cyclone activity that was about 263% of the average season.

In comparison to the 2006 forecast, the 2005 season witnessed 26 named storms, 14 hurricanes and seven intense hurricanes. Long-term averages are 9.6 named storms, 5.9 hurricanes and 2.3 intense hurricanes per year. The 2005 season wreaked havoc on the oil and natural gas industry, onshore and in the Gulf of Mexico. As of Friday, 2,346.79 MMcf/d of natural gas was still shut in offshore which is equivalent to 23.47% of the daily gas production in the GOM (10 Bcf/d). To date, 519.237 Bcf has been shut in, which is equivalent to 14.226% of the yearly production of gas in the Gulf (approximately 3.65 Tcf).

"Enhanced major hurricane activity is likely to continue in the Atlantic basin for the next 15 to 20 years, but the probability of seeing another two consecutive hurricane seasons with as many land-falling hurricanes as was witnessed in 2004 and 2005 is very low," Gray said.

The forecast team also predicted an 81% chance -- much higher than average probability -- that at least one major hurricane will make landfall on the U.S. coastline in 2006. The long-term average probability is 52%.

For the U.S. East Coast, including the Florida Peninsula, the probability of an intense hurricane making landfall is 64% (the long-term average is 31%), according to the forecast. For the Gulf Coast from the Florida Panhandle west to Brownsville, the probability is 47% (the long-term average is 30%).

"The probability of landfall for any one location along the coast is very low and reflects the fact that, in any one season, most U.S. coastal areas will not feel the effects of a hurricane no matter how active a season," Klotzbach said. "However, low landfall probability does not ensure that hurricanes will not come ashore, so coastal residents should always be prepared."

The last two years have each been chaotic as Florida and the Gulf Coast were ravaged by four land-falling hurricanes. Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne caused devastating damage in 2004 followed by Dennis, Katrina, Rita and Wilma in 2005.

"In 2004 and 2005, we saw a rare combination of a high number of major hurricanes forming and especially favorable hurricane steering conditions that drove many storms from the deep tropics across the Caribbean and into Florida and the Gulf Coast," Gray said. "It is statistically unlikely that the coming 2006 and 2007 hurricane seasons will have the number of U.S. land-falling major hurricanes we have seen in the past two years."

Gray and the hurricane forecast team for 2006 expect continued warm tropical and north Atlantic sea-surface temperatures, prevalent in most years since 1995, as well as neutral or weak La Nina conditions - a recipe for greatly enhanced Atlantic basin hurricane activity. These factors are similar to conditions that occurred during the 1961, 1967, 1996, 1999 and 2003 seasons, according to CSU. The average of these five seasons had well above-average activity, and Klotzbach and Gray predict the 2006 season will have slightly more activity than the average of these five years.

While the debate continues as to whether increased storm activity is tied to human-induced global warming, Gray said he does not believe it to be true. "No credible evidence is available or likely will be available soon that will directly associate global surface temperature change to changes in global hurricane frequency and intensity," Gray said.

Gray noted that there have been similar past periods (1940s-1950s) when the Atlantic was just as active as in recent years. "For instance, when we compare Atlantic basin hurricane numbers of the last 15 years with an earlier 15-year period (1950-64), we see no difference in hurricane frequency or intensity even though the global surface temperatures were cooler and there was a general global cooling during 1950-64 as compared with global warming during 1990-2004," he said.

Gray, who has been author of these hurricane forecasts for almost a quarter of a century, said on Tuesday that with the 2006 forecast the torch has been passed to Klotzbach. "After 22 years (since 1984) of making these forecasts, it is appropriate that I step back and have Phil Klotzbach assume the primary responsibility for our project's seasonal, monthly and landfall probability forecasts," Gray said.

The team has updated the Landfall Probability website, which provides probabilities of tropical storm-force, hurricane-force and intense hurricane-force winds making landfall at specific locations along the U.S. East and Gulf Coasts within a variety of time periods. U.S. landfall probabilities are available for 11 regions, 55 sub-regions and 205 individual counties along the U.S. coastline from Brownsville, Texas, to Eastport, Maine. For more information, visit www.e-transit.org/hurricane.

The team said it will issue seasonal updates of its 2006 Atlantic basin hurricane activity forecast on April 4, May 31, Aug. 3, Sept. 1 and Oct. 3. The August, September and October forecasts will include separate forecasts for each of those months.

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