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NOAA: Fading El Nino Could Intensify Hurricane Season

A "strong and mature" El Nino -- the warming of sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean -- persisted during January, but it is likely to fade this spring, increasing the chances for an active Atlantic hurricane season this year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center (CPC).

Expected impacts of the faltering El Nino include above-average temperatures across the northern United States (excluding New England) and below-average temperatures in south-central and southeastern states. If the El Nino weakens between April and June it is also likely to bring above-average precipitation to the southern tier, below-average precipitation in the Pacific Northwest and Ohio Valley, and below-average snowfall to much of the northern tier, CPC said.

The CPC forecast was in line with one issued Wednesday by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology that said the El Nino appeared to have peaked in December and predicted it would end by June.

Last month Andover, MA-based WSI Corp. said it expects the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season to be more active than last year's and predicted that 13 named storms, including seven hurricanes, with three of them intense (Category Three or greater) will form this year (see NGI, Feb. 1). WSI's forecast numbers fall between the 1950-2009 average of 10 named storms, six hurricanes and three intense hurricanes and the 1995-2009 average of 14 named storms, eight hurricanes and four intense hurricanes. Colorado State University hurricane forecasters have said they expect above-average activity and a higher-than-average probability of a major storm making landfall in the United States and the Caribbean (see NGI, Dec. 14, 2009).

Nine named storms formed during 2009, including three hurricanes, two of them intense. In August the season's first hurricane, Bill, reached Category Four status for a short time while it was still south of Bermuda. The storm caused rough seas and unusually high tides along much of the East Coast but did not make landfall until it passed over southeastern Newfoundland. In September Fred also became a major hurricane but weakened considerably while still in the eastern Atlantic and was never a serious threat to land. The tail end of the uneventful hurricane season was punctuated by the threat of Hurricane Ida, which in November sent some offshore operators scurrying to evacuate crews and shut in production in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. However, Ida's impact was short-lived.

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