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Forecasters See More Hurricanes, Warm Start to Winter

WSI Corp. last week said it foresees a total of 16 named storms, including nine hurricanes, four of them intense (Category Three or greater) in the 2008 season, an increase of one named storm from its previous forecast and significantly more storms than the 1950-2007 average of 9.7 named storms, 5.9 hurricanes and 2.3 intense hurricanes. The Colorado State University (CSU) hurricane team said it expects above-average hurricane activity this month, including the formation of one intense hurricane.

WSI also said warmer-than-normal temperatures will dominate the Northeast for the next two months, but the region could experience much colder weather in December. A recurrence of La Nina conditions -- cooling ocean surface temperatures off the western coast of South America -- could lead to "a very cold winter" for much of the country, according to WSI.

Most hurricane forecasters this year called for an active or above-average Atlantic hurricane season, and so far their predictions appear to have been accurate. There have already been 12 named storms including six hurricanes, three of them major hurricanes, but conditions in the Atlantic have resulted in a relatively quiet period recently. A more favorable environment for tropical storm development is likely to return sometime before mid-October, according to WSI seasonal forecaster Todd Crawford.

"Because of this, there will likely be another period of enhanced activity, with a few more named storms likely to occur before the season ends," Crawford said.

The WSI forecast suggests that four more named storms will occur before the Nov. 30 close of the hurricane season. WSI said it expects three more hurricanes, one of them intense.

WSI previously forecast 15 named storms, including nine hurricanes, four of them Category Three or greater (see NGI, Sept. 1).

In a shorter term forecast, CSU forecasters said three named storms, including two hurricanes, one of them intense (Category Three or greater), are likely to form by the end of this month, about twice the activity of an average October.

"We expect the month of October to be quite active," said CSU forecaster Phil Klotzbach. "We continue to observe low sea level pressures and warm sea surface temperatures across the tropical Atlantic. A combination of these two factors typically leads to an active October. In addition, we continue to observe neutral ENSO [El Nino/southern oscillation] conditions in the tropical Pacific, so we do not expect that ENSO conditions will be detrimental to this year's October activity."

The CSU team said there have been 74.5 named storm days so far, nearly twice the number of named storm days expected through the end of September, and Net Tropical Cyclone activity through September was about 155% of the long-period average.

"There has been a strong clustering of hurricane activity around mid-July and late August-early September," said CSU forecaster William Gray. "We think we are now entering a new period of heightened activity that is likely to go for another two to three weeks."

At the beginning of September the CSU hurricane team said it expected four hurricanes to form during September (see NGI, Sept. 8). In fact, the Atlantic Basin has produced four hurricanes since late August. Hurricane Gustav slammed ashore near Cocodrie, LA, on Sept. 2; Hurricane Hanna came ashore days later near the North Carolina/South Carolina border and drenched much of the East Coast; Hurricane Ike roared through Texas and much of the nation's midsection midmonth; and Hurricane Kyle passed to the east of Bermuda and headed north, losing its tropical characteristics as it sideswiped southwestern Nova Scotia late last month.

On Friday the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said there were two broad areas of low pressure with only low potential for tropical cyclone formation in the Atlantic Basin (Tropical Storm Marie, moving slowly west in the Pacific Ocean about 875 miles west-southwest of the southern tip of Baja California, was nearing hurricane strength, NHC said).

In June the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration (EIA) said it expected a total of 11.3 million bbl of crude oil and 78 Bcf of natural gas to be shut in in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) during the 2008 hurricane season (see NGI, June 16). The prediction was based on the results of a Monte Carlo hurricane outage simulation, which is conditioned on how NOAA's most recent predictions for the level of Atlantic Basin hurricane activity compare to historical activity, the EIA said. A report issued this summer by energy consultant IHS Inc. said the average impact on U.S. oil and natural gas production from GOM hurricanes over a 45-year period was "relatively modest" and the impact on energy supplies "typically short-lived" (see NGI, June 9).

In an Energycast Outlook released last week, WSI said it expects a relatively warm start to the winter season, though conditions may be right to produce a very cold winter for much of the country.

"The relatively cold subsurface ocean temperatures in the tropical Pacific, along with recent trends in tropical Pacific surface ocean temperatures, now suggest that a return to at least weak La Nina conditions is likely later this fall," Crawford said. "The current climate signals suggest a warm October/November across the Northeast quarter of the U.S., followed by a sharply colder December. Assuming that the La Nina event does emerge, there are many similarities to the year 2000, which was a very cold winter over much of the U.S. At the current time, we feel that the most significant cold weather will occur in the north-central U.S. this winter, although the Northeast will likely be cold for at least the first half of winter as well."

WSI forecast warmer-than-normal temperatures for October in the Northeast, North Central and Southwest (except California) regions, with cooler than normal air over the Southeast, South Central and Northwest areas.

Energy Security Analysis Inc. (ESAI) said injections to gas storage in October are likely to be above normal as warmer temperatures in the key heating regions of the Northeast and Upper Midwest delay the need for heating. Planned generator maintenance programs will have a greater influence on power prices than any fluctuations in load, due to shoulder season temperature variations, according to ESAI.

Warmer-than-normal temperatures will remain in place over the same regions in November and also move into the South Central region, WSI said. Early season heating demand for natural gas should be slightly below average in November due to warmer temperature expectations across the northern tier of the country, according to ESAI. Power prices in most regions will tend to be related to generator planned maintenance programs through late November, although early season cold later in the month -- prior to the completion of maintenance -- could be bullish for power prices.

By December colder-than-normal temperatures will move into the Northeast, North Central and Southwest regions and remain in place in the Northwest; warmer-than-normal air will dominate in the Southeast and South Central U.S., according to WSI. The cooling trend in the key heating regions across the country's northern tier is likely to be bullish for natural gas demand and prices, ESAI said.

The WSI seasonal outlooks reference a standard 30-year norm (1971-2000). The next forecast, for November-January, is scheduled to be issued Oct. 14.

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