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WSI Forecast: Mild Hurricane Season; Cool Eastern Summer

The upcoming Atlantic hurricane season, which begins Monday (June 1), will have fewer tropical storms than last year and probably about the same number as the long term average, according to forecaster WSI Corp. of Andover, MA, which also called for cooler-than-normal temperatures to dominate most of the eastern U.S. over the next three months.

WSI added its name to the list of forecasters predicting relatively quiet storm numbers for the hurricane season, calling for a total of 11 named storms, including six hurricanes, with two of them intense (Category Three or greater), forming between June 1 and Nov. 30. That would be less tropical storm activity than during the 2008 season, when a total of 16 named storms, including eight hurricanes, five of them intense, formed in the Atlantic. But it would be about the same as an average hurricane season, which has 11 named storms, including two major hurricanes, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

In its initial hurricane forecast for the 2009 season WSI had predicted 13 named storms, three of them intense (see NGI, Jan. 5). But a continuation of relatively cool tropical Atlantic Ocean temperatures, combined with the waning of a recent La Nina event and normal to above-normal wind shear in the tropical Atlantic, prompted the forecaster to reduce those numbers (see NGI, April 27).

The WSI forecast follows a similar prediction of a "near-normal" Atlantic hurricane season recently issued by NOAA (see NGI, May 25).While NOAA said there is a 50% probability of a near-normal season, it also noted that global weather patterns "are imposing a greater uncertainty in the 2009 hurricane season outlook than in recent years," leaving a 25% chance the upcoming season will be above- or below-normal.

Last month AccuWeather.com Chief Long Range Forecaster Joe Bastardi said the upcoming hurricane season may produce fewer storms than last year, but the Texas coast could be hit by an early tropical storm (see NGI, May 18). Bastardi previously predicted 13 named storms, including eight hurricanes, two of them intense (see NGI, March 23). AccuWeather.com expects three storms to deal at least tropical storm-force winds to the U.S. coast, two of which could be hurricanes, and perhaps one major hurricane.

The Colorado State University forecast team, which had previously estimated that there would be 14 named storms during the 2009 season (see NGI, Dec. 15, 2008), recently revised its forecast to 12 named storms, with at least half of them likely to become hurricanes, two of them intense (see NGI, April 13).

Temperatures during the first three months of the hurricane season are likely to be cooler-than-normal across most of the eastern U.S., while above-normal temperatures are expected across the West, according WSI.

"The North Atlantic and North Pacific oceans are now both cooler than normal for the first time in 15 years. This fact, along with a lack of any significant drought conditions in the eastern U.S. and a trend towards El Nino conditions, should result in a relatively cool summer east of the Rockies," said WSI seasonal forecaster Todd Crawford. "We do think that the best chance for market-moving heat in the Northeast will be early in the summer, before a cooler pattern sets in during the last half of the summer."

In its Energycast Outlook for June WSI forecast cooler-than-normal temperatures in the Southeast and South-Central regions, with warmer-than-normal temperatures in control in the Southwest (except coastal California) and all of the nation's northern tier.

"A marginally higher probability of early-season heat events is bullish for electricity demand and prices, although prices will be tempered by lower demand due to economic conditions," said Paul Fleming, Energy Security Analysis Inc. (ESAI) director of power and gas, in a statement issued in conjunction with WSI's outlook. "Cooler weather in the Southeast and South-Central regions as well as California should result in slightly lower gas demand from the power sector, providing an offset to higher demand expectations in the Southwest."

By July cooler-than-normal temperatures will be in place in across all of the East and Central U.S., as well as coastal California, while warmer-than-normal temperatures will remain in the Northwest and Southwest regions, according to the WSI forecast.

"Cooler-than-normal temperatures across most of the country will result in significantly lower gas demand and would be bearish for prices in the absence of hurricane activity," Fleming said. "Power prices in the major markets are likely to be moderate with lower demand expectations due to the cooler outlook and the economic climate, as well as a low gas price environment. The cooler outlook reduces the likelihood of major heat events."

While WSI expects warmer-than-normal temperatures to return to the North-Central region and coastal California in August, the rest of the forecaster's temperature map remains unchanged from July. Cooler-than-normal temperatures will continue to dominate the East and the South-Central region, while warmer-than-normal temperatures will continue in the West, WSI said.

"Two months of below-normal demand this summer would be bearish for natural gas prices in light of market expectations that natural gas inventories are already expected to be very full at the end of the injection season," Fleming said. "Cooler temperatures, lower demand for power and low natural gas prices will continue to moderate power prices in most markets this August."

The WSI seasonal outlooks reference a standard 30-year norm (1971-2000). The next forecast, for July-September, is scheduled to be issued June 24.

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