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Hurricane in Gulf 14% More Likely than Average in '98

Hurricane in Gulf 14% More Likely than Average in '98

The Gulf Coast from Brownsville, TX, to Spring Hill, FL, has been hit by 34 intense hurricanes this century, and there's a high probability one could make an unwelcome visit in 1998.

In his first look at hurricane landfall probabilities, esteemed hurricane forecaster William Gray of Colorado State University said the Gulf Coast region is 14% more likely to suffer through an intense hurricane (category 3, 4, or 5) and 16% more likely to be hit by a lower level cyclone this year than the average landfall probability over the past 98 years.

Florida and the East Coast are 44% more likely to get whacked by a big one this year than the 98-year average, Gray said. South Florida has the highest probability of landfalling intense hurricanes, according to the report. The U.S. coast from Springhill, FL, to Eastport, ME, has been hit 38 times by category 3-5 hurricanes so far this century. The landfalls have covered only about half the overall coastline, but sustained gale force winds typically extend up to 300 miles on either side of the landfall location. To obtain probability estimates for gale force winds occurring at coastal locations this year, the probabilities for hurricane landfalls should be multiplied by a factor of 3-5, according to CSU's Department of Atmospheric Science.

In an earlier forecast, Gray said he expected this year's Atlantic hurricane activity to be "appreciably more than 1997 but less than the unusually active 1995 and 1996 seasons. Still, 1998 should be significantly more active than the average of the generally suppressed hurricane seasons during the last 25 years and especially in comparison to the particularly quiet seasons of 1991-1994." Predicted for this year's season are 10 named storms, 50 storm days, six hurricanes, 25 hurricane days, two intense hurricanes, four intense hurricane days and a hurricane destruction potential of 70.

A named storm is a hurricane or tropical storm. A hurricane is a tropical cyclone with sustained low-level winds of 74 miles per hour or greater. A hurricane day is a measure of hurricane activity, one unit of which occurs as four six-hour periods during which a tropical cyclone is observed or estimated to have hurricane intensity winds. An intense hurricane reaches a sustained low-level wind of at least 111 miles per hour at some point in its lifetime. This constitutes a "category 3" or "major" hurricane. An intense hurricane day is four six-hour periods during which a hurricane has category 3 intensity or higher. Hurricane destruction potential is a measure of a hurricane's potential for wind and storm surge destruction defined as the sum of the square of a hurricane's maximum wind speed for each six-hour period of its existence.

Rocco Canonica

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