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Forecasters Agree: Hurricane Numbers Predicted Lower Than 2011

Add Earth Networks, the owner of WeatherBug, as well as Telvent DTN to the growing list of forecasters that expect the 2012 hurricane season to produce fewer tropical storms than the last few years.

"Bottom line, the big picture is we're pretty close to normal in our forecast for the hurricane season in the Atlantic this year," Earth Networks Senior Meteorologist James Aman said Wednesday.

The WeatherBug meteorology team is forecasting 11-13 named storms in the Atlantic Basin, including six to seven hurricanes, with two to four major hurricanes (Category 3 or higher).

"The favorable La Nina conditions noted in 2011 have now ended, with neutral El Nino-La Nina Southern Oscillation conditions expected this summer," Aman said. "A weak El Nino might develop by this autumn, which could be a slightly negative factor for the latter part of the hurricane season. This will tend to be balanced by the favorable phase of the long-term Atlantic multi-decade cycle. In addition, water temperatures in the Atlantic basin are closer to normal, and are not as warm as they were for the above-normal season in 2011."

The potential for hurricane landfall in the United States this year "appears to be near normal," Earth Networks said.

While the hurricane threat for the entire Atlantic basin is lower than in recent years, the United States -- especially the Gulf of Mexico and energy interests located there -- could be in greater danger from tropical storms, according to Telvent chief science officer Jeff Johnson.

"This year one thing I am concerned about is the warmer water near the U.S. in the western part of the basin," Johnson said. "That may tend to enhance the early season threat...and then also any storms that maybe develop a little further out could intensify with short notice as they move toward the U.S."

That could lead to shorter lead times as storms approach the Gulf coast and energy interests in that area, Johnson noted. "Instead of watching a storm way out in the central Atlantic and knowing about it 10 days ahead, we may see storms pop up with a day notice or two days notice or three days notice in close to the Gulf and off the southeast coast."

Telvent DTN said it is expecting 11 named storms this year, including six hurricanes, two of them major hurricanes.

Other forecasters expecting a relatively quiet hurricane season this year include Weather Services International (forecasting 11 named storms, including six hurricanes, two of them major hurricanes (see Daily GPI, May 23), AccuWeather.com (12/five/two (see Daily GPI, April 27)) and Colorado State University (10/four/two (see Daily GPI, April 16)). The 1950-2011 average is 12/seven/three and the 1995-2011 average is 15/eight/four.

While last year's Atlantic hurricane season didn't bring many tropical storms to Gulf of Mexico energy interests or the North American mainland, it did produce the third-highest number of tropical storms since records began in 1851 and continued a trend of active hurricane seasons begun in 1995 (see Daily GPI, Nov. 29, 2011).

The Atlantic hurricane season, which officially runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, got off to an early start this year with the formation of Tropical Storm Alberto off the coast of South Carolina last weekend. Alberto moved to within 130 miles of Charleston, SC, but was downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone and was moving toward the central Atlantic Ocean by Tuesday.

"I don't know that you can really read too much into the fact that we had an early season storm," Aman said. "It may indicate that we do have conditions that are getting close to storm formation...you can't read too much into it, but it does mean that we're getting close to the season and atmospherically we're getting ready to have hurricanes."

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