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NOAA: U.S. Luck May Change This Hurricane Season

The 2011 Atlantic hurricane season, which officially begins June 1, will produce above-normal numbers of tropical storms and is likely to be more damaging to the United States than the 2010 season, which produced a near-record number of storms but had little impact on the coastline and energy industry, according to forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA).

"The U.S. was lucky last year," NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco said Thursday. "Despite an above-normal season, we did not have significant damage from these storms on U.S. land. The winds that steer where storms go kept them away from our coastlines. We cannot count on having the same luck this year."

NOAA said the Atlantic basin is likely to produce 12-18 named storms, including six to 10 hurricanes, three to six of them Category 3 or greater. And while NOAA does not make seasonal landfall predictions, it said it is unlikely that another year of above-normal activity will leave the United States unscathed.

"This year we are unlikely to see a repeat of last year, where there were a total of 19 named storms -- that was the third most active hurricane season on record -- including 12 hurricanes, the second highest in one season. Despite this tropical onslaught, most of the tropical storms and all of the hurricanes last year, fortunately, avoided U.S. coastlines," Lubchenco said.

Climate factors that led NOAA to its 2011 Atlantic hurricane forecast included the relative warmth of Atlantic Ocean water, a weakening La Nina event in the equatorial Pacific Ocean and the continuation of an era of high activity that began in 1995.

"During this period the conditions in the ocean and the atmosphere collectively have produced a larger number of storms and more powerful hurricanes," Lubchenco said.

The Atlantic basin produced an average of 12 named storms, including seven hurricanes, three of them intense, between 1950 and 2010.

The NOAA forecast comes just two days after MDA EarthSat Weather said it expects an active hurricane season, with warming sea surface temperatures in the Pacific helping to form 14 named storms, including seven hurricanes, five of them intense (see Daily GPI, May 18). And Andover, MA-based WSI Corp. has said it expects 15 named storms, including eight hurricanes, four of them intense (see Daily GPI, April 27).

AccuWeather.com forecasters, who have also predicted a higher-than-normal number of tropical systems with more direct impacts on the United States than last year, have said any effects of hurricanes on the energy industry -- including spiking prices for gasoline -- aren't likely to last long.

NOAA was accurate in its 2010 Atlantic hurricane forecast, which predicted 14-23 named storms, including eight to 14 hurricanes, three to seven of them intense (see Daily GPI, May 28, 2010). The season went on to produce a total of 19 named storms, with 12 of them becoming hurricanes, including five intense hurricanes. But despite being one of the busiest hurricane seasons in years, 2010 brought relatively little damage to the U.S. mainland and energy interests in the Gulf of Mexico.

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