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Forecaster Raises Atlantic Hurricane Prediction

The U.S. Atlantic Basin could be in for a particularly active hurricane season, according to Colorado State University's heavily anticipated hurricane forecast, which was released on Friday. The new forecast predicts the season will be worse than previously forecasted.

As cold temperatures give way to spring like conditions, energy market watchers are beginning to turn their attention to summer heat outlooks and hurricane forecasts in order to gauge market direction. Friday's forecast helped May natural gas futures climb 9.6 cents to finish the week at $7.749/MMBtu.

"We foresee an above-average hurricane season for the Atlantic basin in 2005," said Dr. William M. Gray of Colorado State University. "Also, an above-average probability of U.S. major hurricane landfall is anticipated. We have adjusted our forecast upward from our early December forecast and may further raise our prediction in our later updates if we can be sure El Nino conditions will not develop."

In December 2004, Gray was calling for a slightly above-average hurricane season for the Atlantic basin with an above-average probability of U.S. major hurricane landfall anticipated. At that time, Gray said he didn't expect 2005 to bring "anything close" to the U.S. landfalling hurricane activity of 2004. That reassurance was notably missing from the newly released April forecast.

"We estimate that 2005 will have about seven hurricanes (average is 5.9), 13 named storms (average is 9.6), 65 named storm days (average is 49), 35 hurricane days (average is 24.5), three intense (category 3-4-5) hurricanes (average is 2.3) and seven intense hurricane days (average is 5.0)," he said.

Gray added that he expects the Atlantic basin Net Tropical Cyclone (NTC) activity in 2005 to be 135% of the long-term average, with the probability of U.S. major hurricane landfall estimated to be 140% of the long-period average. "We expect this year to continue the past-decade trend of above-average hurricane seasons," he noted.

By comparison, 2004 saw nine hurricanes, 14 named storms, 90 named storm days, 46 hurricane days, six major hurricanes and 22 major hurricane days. The Atlantic NTC activity in 2004 was a stunning 229% of the long-term average.

The forecaster said this early April forecast is based on a newly devised extended range statistical forecast procedure that utilizes 52 years of past global reanalysis data. Analog predictors are also utilized. On a comparison basis, Gray said 2005 activity will likely resemble the activity seen in 1952, 1959, 1995 and most recently, 2003. Based on this analysis, Gray said he expects 2005 to be an active hurricane season and inline with the average of eight of the last 10 years (1995, 1996; 1998-2001; 2003, 2004). He anticipates 2005 to be considerably more active than the average season during the inactive 1970-1994 period.

"We have increased our forecast from our early December prediction due to a continued Atlantic Ocean warming and a belief that significant El Nino conditions for this summer/fall are now less likely," Gray said. "If the next few months verify this supposition, it is probable that we will be further raising our 31 May and 5 August seasonal forecast numbers." The respected forecaster stressed that conditions in the Atlantic are "very favorable" for an active hurricane season.

Gray dispelled rumors that the recent climb in hurricane activity over the past number of years is related in any way to global warming. "Many individuals have queried whether the unprecedented landfall of four destructive hurricanes in a seven-week period during August-September 2004 is related in any way to human-induced climate changes. There is no evidence that this is the case," he said.

"If global warming were the cause of the increase in United States hurricane landfalls in 2004 and the overall increase in Atlantic basin major hurricane activity of the past 10 years (1995-2004), one would expect to see an increase in tropical cyclone activity in the other storm basins as well (i.e., West Pacific, East Pacific, Indian Ocean, etc.). This has not occurred."

He noted that when the tropical cyclones worldwide are added up, there has actually been a slight decrease since 1995. In addition, Gray said it has been "well-documented" that the measured global warming of about 0.5 degrees Celsius during the 25-year period of 1970-1994 was accompanied by a "downturn" in Atlantic basin hurricane activity.

Instead, the forecaster said the increased Atlantic hurricane activity over the past 10 years has been a consequence of the multidecadal fluctuations in the Atlantic Ocean thermohaline circulation (THC). "When the Atlantic Ocean thermohaline circulation is running strong, the central Atlantic equatorial trough (ITCZ) becomes stronger," Gray explained. "The stronger the Atlantic equatorial trough becomes, the more favorable are conditions for the development of major hurricanes in the central Atlantic."

Gray said that since 1995, the THC has been flowing more strongly, and there has been an increase in Atlantic major hurricanes in the tropical Atlantic. "Even though the 2004 hurricane season [was] quite active, it [was] only somewhat more active than seven of the past nine hurricane seasons (1995-1996, 1998-2001, 2003)," he said. "It was the environmental steering currents that drove four of the six major hurricanes of 2004 on such long, low-latitude westerly tracks that made this season so special. The very damaging Atlantic 2004 hurricane season...was simply a low probability event resulting from unusual natural variability in the ocean-atmosphere system."

Looking ahead, he said Colorado State will be issuing seasonal updates of the 2005 Atlantic basin hurricane activity forecast on May 31 (to coincide with the official start of the 2005 hurricane season on June 1), Aug. 5, Sept. 2 and Oct. 3.

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