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Hurricanes Could Hit Gulf Coast Hardest This Year, Forecaster Says

When the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season officially begins next Wednesday (June 1), it will usher in five months of active tropical storm production, including a "significant threat for hurricane landfall" in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM), forecasters at Andover, MA-based WSI Corp. said Tuesday.

"Most of the important drivers for tropical activity continue to indicate that an active-normal season lies ahead of us," said WSI Chief Meteorologist Todd Crawford.

WSI reaffirmed the forecast of 15 named storms, including eight hurricanes, four of them Category Three or greater -- the same as the 1995-2010 average -- which it first released in April (see Daily GPI, April 27). Atlantic sea surface temperatures are near 1995-2010 mean values and WSI doesn't expect either an El Nino or La Nina event to develop this summer, Crawford said.

"We do expect another active season in 2011, although not to the level of 2005 or 2010. However, while we expect less overall activity this year than last, we do expect a much more impactful season along the U.S. coastline. The U.S. has been spared from any landfalling hurricanes since 2008 and the hurricane drought in 2009 and 2010 is relatively rare in the historical record. In fact, the U.S. has not had a three-year stretch without a hurricane landfall since the 1860s."

The Gulf Coast is under a significant threat for hurricane landfall in the upcoming season, according to WSI, which said it expects two or three landfalling hurricanes this year.

"The lack of U.S. landfalls in 2010 was primarily due to a persistent western Atlantic trough that essentially protected the U.S. East Coast from any direct hits," Crawford said. "We do not expect this feature to be in place this year during late summer and fall when most tropical storms occur. Further, the Gulf and Caribbean sea surface temperatures are particularly warm this year, and we expect more development in these regions and less in the eastern tropical Atlantic. Storms developing in the Gulf and Caribbean are a much greater threat to make landfall along the U.S. coast than those that develop off the coast of Africa."

The WSI forecast numbers remain above the longer-term 1950-2010 average of 12 named storms, including seven hurricanes, three of them intense. A total of 19 named storms formed in 2010, with 12 of them becoming hurricanes, including five intense hurricanes (see Daily GPI, Dec. 1, 2010).

Last week forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) said they expect the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season will produce above-normal numbers of tropical storms and is likely to be more damaging to the United States than the 2010 season (see Daily GPI, May 20). NOAA said the Atlantic basin is likely to produce 12-18 named storms, including six to 10 hurricanes, three to six of them intense.

And MDA EarthSat Weather has 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).

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.

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