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NOAA Continues to See a 'Very Active' 2006 Atlantic Hurricane Season

While this year's Atlantic hurricane season is expected to pale in comparison to last year's extraordinary display, the U.S. Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced last Monday that it still is expecting "a very active hurricane season" in 2006, adding that individuals should make preparations to better protect their lives and livelihoods.

"For the 2006 north Atlantic hurricane season, NOAA is predicting 13 to 16 named storms, with eight to 10 becoming hurricanes, of which four to six could become 'major' hurricanes of Category 3 strength or higher," said NOAA Administrator Conrad C. Lautenbacher.

Despite coming as no great shock, the hurricane forecast was bullish enough to push June natural gas futures 31.4 cents higher last Monday to settle at $6.276/MMBtu. The rally was short-lived, however, as the contract gave it all back two days later.

On average, the north Atlantic hurricane season produces 11 named storms, with six becoming hurricanes, including two major hurricanes. In 2005 there were 27 named storms, 15 hurricanes and seven major hurricanes. Of the seven major hurricanes, a record four hit the United States. "Although NOAA is not forecasting a repeat of last year's season, the potential for hurricanes striking the U.S. is high," added Lautenbacher.

NOAA's updated forecast stayed almost unchanged from the one it issued a couple of months ago. Between the two forecasts, the number of storms predicted remained the same, but NOAA was originally calling for seven-to-10 hurricanes and three-to-five major hurricanes (see NGI, Feb. 6).

Kicking off National Hurricane Preparedness Week, NOAA said warmer water temperatures combined with lower wind shear, weaker easterly trade winds, and a more favorable wind pattern in the mid-levels of the atmosphere favor a higher number of storms than normal and greater intensity in those storms. The traditional Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.

The government agency's seasonal forecast indicates an 80% chance of an above-normal hurricane season, a 15% chance of a near-normal season, and only a 5% chance of a below-normal season. The outlook is produced by scientists at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center (CPC), National Hurricane Center (NHC), and Hurricane Research Division.

In addition to the devastation of various Gulf Coast communities, the overactive 2005 hurricane season did significant damage to onshore and offshore energy assets. Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma all reached Category 5 intensity, which is the first season since 1851 that three storms have achieved that level. Now almost a year later, 1.295 Bcf/d still remains shut in as of the Minerals Management Service's latest report on May 3. This shut-in gas production is equivalent to almost 13% of the 10 Bcf of normal daily gas production in the Gulf of Mexico. As of May 3, a total of 749 Bcf has been shut-in in the Gulf from last year's hurricanes, which is equivalent to 20.5% of the Gulf's 3.65 Tcf of yearly production.

During the news conference last Monday at the NHC, Deputy Secretary of Commerce David A. Sampson noted, "Preparation is the key message that President Bush wants to convey during National Hurricane Preparedness Week. The impact from these storms extends well beyond coastal areas so it is vital that residents in hurricane prone areas get ready in advance of the hurricane season."

NOAA explained that the favorable hurricane conditions are strongly related to a climate pattern known as the multi-decadal signal, which has been in place since 1995. Since then, nine of the last 11 hurricane seasons have been above normal, with only two below-normal seasons during the El Nino years of 1997 and 2002. With neutral El Nino/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) conditions expected across the equatorial Pacific during the next three to six months, CPC scientists say that neither El Nino nor La Nina will likely be a factor in this year's hurricane season.

"Whether we face an active hurricane season, like this year, or a below-normal season, the crucial message for every person is the same: prepare, prepare, prepare," said Max Mayfield, director of the NHC. "One hurricane hitting where you live is enough to make it a bad season."

NOAA said it will issue a mid-season update in early August just prior to the normal August through October peak in activity.

Other prominent forecasters are also calling for a more active than normal hurricane season (see NGI, May 15). Colorado State University forecasters Philip J. Klotzbach and William M. Gray said in April that they expect 17 named storms, nine hurricanes, and five intense hurricanes (see NGI, April 10). The team will issue a seasonal update on May 31 to coincide with the official start of the 2006 hurricane season.

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