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CSU Team Lowers Hurricane Estimates -- Again

For the second time this spring Colorado State University (CSU) forecasters have cut their 2009 Atlantic hurricane forecast, saying they now foresee slightly below-average tropical storm activity and slightly below-average probability of a major hurricane hitting the United States.

The CSU team now estimates that the Atlantic hurricane season, which began Monday and runs through Nov. 30, will produce 11 named storms, including five hurricanes, two of them intense (Category Three or greater).

In a preliminary forecast in December, the CSU team had estimated there would be 14 named storms this year (see NGI, Dec. 15, 2008). By April the forecasters had cut their Atlantic hurricane forecast to 12 named storms (see NGI, April 13).

Currently neutral El Nino/southern oscillation conditions that could transition to weak El Nino conditions, the persistence of anomalously cool sea surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic and a stronger-than-normal Azores High during April-May all contributed to the new forecast, according to CSU.

A total of 16 named storms, including eight hurricanes, five of them intense, formed during the 2008 season. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), an average Atlantic hurricane season has 11 named storms, which includes two major hurricanes.

CSU set these probabilities that a major hurricane would make landfall on U.S. soil:

Tropical cyclone activity, which had previously been predicted to be 105% of the average season this year, was downgraded by the CSU team to approximately 90% of the long-term average. By comparison, 2008 witnessed tropical cyclone activity that was about 160% of the average season.

Other forecasters calling for a relatively mild Atlantic hurricane season include WSI Corp. (see NGI, June 1), NOAA (see NGI, May 25) and Chief Long Range Forecaster Joe Bastardi (see NGI, May 18).

While the consensus seems to be that the hurricane season will be mild and temperatures across much of the country will be slightly cooler this summer than in recent years, the weather's effect on natural gas consumption is not so easy to predict, according to analysts at Barclays Capital.

Taking into account its own forecast of mild summer weather, Barclays said it expects just a 0.1 Bcf/d uptick in natural gas demand for power generation during May-September compared with the same period last year.

In a forecast issued last week, Barclays predicted 12-14 named storms expected to form this year. The analysts also said temperatures nationwide in May-September will average 4% warmer than the 1971-2000 average, 4% cooler than the most recent 10-year average and 1% cooler than in 2008, according to Barclays' commodities trading desk in-house meteorologist Dan Guertin. Based on long-term warming trends across the West and an ongoing drought in Texas and the western high Plains, Barclays predicts that the cooling season will average above normal across those areas. Below-normal water temperatures in the eastern Pacific ocean will keep temperatures along the West Coast near normal. The Midwest, Northeast and Mississippi Valley can also expect near-normal temperatures this summer, according to the Barclays forecast.

The analysts said the cooling degrees days count for May-September will be approximately 1,125.

The Barclays forecast was generally in line with WSI's recent forecast of cooler-than-normal temperatures dominating most of the eastern U.S. over the next three months, with above-normal temperatures expected across much of the West.

Summer weather in line with the 30-year norms would result in a drop in power sector-natural gas consumption of 370 MMcf/d compared with 2008, while the 4% warming projected by Guertin would result in a 0.1 Bcf/d increase.

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