Hurricane Season Finally Shows, Prices Soar
Don't put your duct tape and plywood away just yet. The lull in
the Atlantic hurricane season finally broke last week with Tropical
Storm Bret and Tropical Depression Four throwing a one-two punch to
the gas market and triggering a more than 30-cent jump in Nymex
Henry Hub futures prices, which broke $3 early on Friday.
Meanwhile, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
(NOAA) and renowned Colorado State University forecaster Dr.
William M. Gray both recently reiterated their predictions that the
hurricane season will be a whopper despite the early lull.
On Friday morning the National Hurricane Center issued a
hurricane watch and a tropical storm warning for the Mexican Coast
from La Pesca southward to Veracruz and warned residents along the
Texas Coast to monitor the progress of Bret, which was in the Bay
of Campeche. At 10 a.m. CDT the storm was near latitude 20.9 north
longitude 94.6 west or about 230 miles east southeast of Tampico,
Mexico, and moving 7 mph to the northwest and slowing. Maximum
sustained winds were 65 mph and strengthening.
Whenever a major storm develops in the Gulf, producers are quick
to react and late last week they were monitoring the situation
closely. As of Friday morning, however, production platform
operations were normal because of the less than 20% chance the
storm would even reach as far north as Brownsville, TX, by Monday.
Meanwhile Tropical Depression Four with 35 mph winds was about
90 miles south southwest of the Cape Verde Islands in the Atlantic
and moving west 9 mph with little change in strength expected over
the next 24 hours.
The two storms came just a couple weeks after Dr. Gray said he
was sticking with his previous forecast of much above average
hurricane activity, including 14 named tropical storms (compared to
the average of 9.3 per year), nine hurricanes (compared to the
average 5.8) and four intense hurricanes (compared to the average
of 2.2 per year). For the Gulf Coast region from Brownsville, TX,
to Spring Hill, FL, Gray sees a 73% probability that a hurricane
will make landfall this year compared to the average probability of
only 60%. There's a 40% probability that an intense hurricane
(category 3, 4 or 5) will make landfall on the Gulf Coast compared
to the average probability of 30%, he said.
"The observation of only one named storm (tropical storm Arlene)
up to Aug. 6 is judged to have little or no relationship to whether
we will have an overall active or inactive hurricane season," Gray
said. "Many very active hurricane seasons have experienced little
hurricane activity until mid or late August."
Gray's conclusions closely matched those of NOAA scientists, who
also released a forecast update earlier this month. NOAA's Climate
Prediction Center (CPC) said it still expects three or more intense
Atlantic hurricanes this season, and warned residents living in
communities along the East and Gulf coasts to remain prepared.
"Last year we had fourteen named storms, and the first hurricane
(Bonnie) didn't develop until mid-August," noted Gerald Bell, a
research meteorologist with the CPC. "This year, many of the most
prominent atmospheric and oceanic factors that can generate
tropical storm and hurricane activity in the Atlantic basin are
already in place, and are expected to persist through the season.
Just because we haven't seen a hurricane yet this year, don't get
fooled into thinking that this will be a light season."
He said hurricane producing conditions are expected to persist
because of their strong link to existing patterns of tropical
rainfall and cooler-than-average tropical Pacific Ocean
temperatures (La Nina), both of which are expected to continue
through the remainder of the hurricane season.
Two additional factors - reduced wind shear over the Caribbean
Sea and a northward extension of deep tropical moisture and
rainfall to the hurricane development region - which are typically
observed during active hurricane seasons, are not yet in place but
are expected to develop during the coming weeks, Bell added.
The observation of only one tropical storm in the Atlantic from
June to early August is normal for this time of year, NOAA said in
The 1998 hurricane season produced 14 tropical storms, including
three major hurricanes. These storms inflicted $7.3 billion in
damages and 23 fatalities in the United States alone. In an average
season, the Atlantic Basin experiences between five and six
hurricanes, two of which are severe and 1.5 storms make land fall.