The 2012 Atlantic hurricane season, which has so far been relatively mild, may be about to intensify, according to Weather Services International (WSI), which increased its forecast to 14 named storms, including seven hurricanes, three of them major (Category 3 or higher).

WSI's latest tropical forecast is a slight increase from July, when it said it expected 13 named storms in the Atlantic Basin this year, including six hurricanes, three of them major (see Daily GPI, July 25). Prior to the June 1 open of the hurricane season WSI issued an 11/six/two forecast, which it has nudged higher several times (see Daily GPI, June 27; May 23; April 25).

If WSI's latest forecast numbers are accurate, the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season would nearly match the 1950-2011 average of 12 named storms, seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes and would come in under the 1995-2011 average of 15/eight/four, but it would produce significantly less tropical activity than was observed in 2010 or 2011.

Warming ocean waters in the northern Atlantic waters, which can help produce tropical cyclones, prompted the higher numbers of forecast storms, according to WSI Chief Meteorologist Todd Crawford.

"We have already had eight named storms and three hurricanes, and there is still about two-thirds of the season remaining. During recent emerging El Nino events, six to nine named storms and three to five hurricanes have formed after mid-August. This data, along with similar guidance from our statistical models have led us to increase our numbers again," Crawford said.

"One of the main drivers of this forecast increase is the continued warming of the North Atlantic, where ocean temperatures are now approaching those observed in the more active seasons in recent years. This extra 'fuel' will be offset by the emerging El Nino event, which will provide a less favorable environment for storm development as the season progresses."

The first two months of the hurricane season have left energy interests in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) unscathed, but the rest of the season may not be so generous, Crawford said.

"The current, cooler pattern in the eastern half of the country is more favorable for storms recurving out into the Atlantic or impacting the East Coast. However, as we head into September, we expect the evolving large-scale pattern to favor more southward-tracking storms and a greater Gulf threat. As a whole, for 2012, the current forecast from our landfall model depicts slightly below-normal probabilities of landfall from Florida and up the East Coast, with slightly above-normal probabilities in the Gulf."

The Atlantic hurricane season, which officially runs until Nov. 30, got off to an early start this year with the formation of Tropical Storms Alberto and Beryl in May. The season's third named system, Chris, formed southeast of the Canadian Maritimes June 19 and, despite becoming the season's first hurricane for a few hours on June 21, never threatened the North American mainland. Debby, the fourth named storm of the 2012 season, formed near the Yucatan Peninsula June 23, forcing offshore GOM oil and gas operators to evacuate workers from platforms and shut in production temporarily (see Daily GPI, June 26).

Ernesto, which formed Aug. 2 and also briefly reached hurricane status, dumped heavy rain on central Mexico after skirting the far southern GOM. The season's sixth named storm, Florence, petered out north of Puerto Rico earlier this month. Tropical Storm Helena followed a path similar to Ernesto, degenerating into a broad area of low pressure about 85 miles west-northwest of Tampico, Mexico, last weekend. And Gordon, the 2012 season's third hurricane, took an alternative route, forming several hundred miles east of Bermuda on August 15 and moving steadily away from North America before dispersing near the Azores on Monday.

On Tuesday the National Hurricane Center (NHC) was tracking three tropical disturbances. Showers and thunderstorms associated with a weak area of low pressure located near the northeastern coast of Mexico had only about a 20% change of becoming a tropical cyclone, NHC said. Another low pressure system, which was located about 550 miles southwest of the Cape Verde islands had a 60% change of becoming a tropical cyclone as it moved west at about 15 mph.

Of more interest to GOM energy interests is Tropical Storm Isaac, which on Tuesday was located about 500 miles east of Guadeloupe. The system could approach Cuba by this weekend and potentially enter the GOM early next week, NHC said. The storm had maximum sustained winds of 40 mph and was moving west at 17 mph. "Additional strengthening is forecast during the next 48 hours," NHC said late Tuesday.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently raised its tropical forecast to a total of 12-17 named storms, including five-eight hurricanes, two-three of them major (see Daily GPI, Aug. 10), and forecasters at Colorado State University have said that they expect a total of 14 named storms in the Atlantic Basin this year, including six hurricanes, two of them major, a slight increase from activity they predicted at the beginning of the 2012 hurricane season (see Daily GPI, Aug. 7; June 4).

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