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CSU Forecast: Above-Average Hurricane Season Next Year

The 2009 Atlantic hurricane season is likely to look much like the just-concluded 2008 season: above-average activity, with an above-average chance of at least one major (Category Three or greater) hurricane making landfall on the Gulf Coast, according to weather forecasters at Colorado State University (CSU).

CSU's first extended-range forecast for 2009 anticipates 14 named storms forming in the Atlantic Basin between June 1 and Nov. 30, with seven of the 14 storms predicted to become hurricanes, including three major hurricanes with sustained winds of at least 111 mph. The forecasters said their analysis was based on a new extended-range early December statistical prediction scheme that utilizes data from the last 58 years. The average hurricane season over that period produced 14 named storms, with seven of them hurricanes and three of them intense hurricanes.

"The influences of El Nino conditions are implicit in these predictor fields, and therefore we do not utilize a specific ENSO [El Nino/southern oscillation] forecast as a predictor," the CSU team said. "We currently do not expect to see El Nino conditions during the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season."

The CSU team said the probability of at least one major hurricane making landfall between the Florida Panhandle and Brownsville, TX, during the 2009 hurricane season will be 38%, compared to a 30% average over the last century. There is a 39% probability of a major hurricane hitting the East Coast, compared to a 31% average over the last century, and a 63% probability of a major Atlantic hurricane coming ashore anywhere in the United States, compared to a 52% average over the last century, they said. The risk of major hurricane landfall in the Caribbean will be above average, according to the CSU team.

"We are currently in an active period for Atlantic hurricane activity," said said CSU forecaster William Gray. "This active cycle in the Atlantic basin is expected to continue for another decade or two at which time we should enter a quieter Atlantic major hurricane period like we experienced during the periods from 1970-1994 and 1901-1925."

In its initial extended-range forecast last year, the CSU team predicted a somewhat above-average 2008 hurricane season, anticipating 13 named storms, seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes (see NGI, Dec. 10, 2007). As the season approached, the CSU team amended its prediction, calling for 15 named storms, eight hurricanes and four major hurricanes (see NGI, June 9; April 10). By August the forecasters had upgraded their prediction to 17 named storms, nine hurricanes and five major hurricanes (see NGI, Aug. 11).

The 2008 season ended up being "one of the most destructive years on record from a damage perspective," producing a total of 16 named storms, including eight hurricanes, five of them intense, according to CSU forecaster Phil Klotzbach (see NGI, Nov. 24).

The Atlantic has seen a large increase in major hurricanes -- almost four a year since 1995 after averaging just 1.5 a year between 1907 and 1994 -- due primarily to natural multi-decadal variability in the strength of the Atlantic thermohaline circulation and a concomitant increase in tropical Atlantic sea surface temperatures, Klotzbach said. The changes are not directly related to global sea surface temperature increases or atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, he said.

None of the 16 named storms developed into a Category Five hurricane in 2008, only the second time since 2002 when the season failed to produce a Category Five. Still, three hurricanes made landfall along the U.S. Gulf Coast, the second highest total since 1985, and Ike was among the most damaging hurricanes in U.S. history.

A Minerals Management Service (MMS) report issued Dec. 3 concluded that approximately 20.9% of the natural gas production and 14.9% of the oil production in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) remained shut in nearly three months after hurricanes Gustav and Ike struck. GOM natural gas production prior to the hurricanes was estimated to be 7 Bcf/d. Since then production from the Independence Hub has increased and current production from the GOM is estimated at 7.4 Bcf/d, MMS said.

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