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Batten Down the Hatches This Hurricane Season

Batten Down the Hatches This Hurricane Season

If government predictions are correct, Gulf of Mexico producers could be shutting in more rigs and shuttling more workers to safety this hurricane season than last.

This year's Gulf Coast and Atlantic hurricane season will bring more tropical storms, hurricanes and intense hurricanes than usual, say scientists in the first hurricane outlook ever released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at the beginning of the June-November season.

The outlook calls for increased chances of greater-than-average hurricane activity and three or more intense storms. A normal Atlantic hurricane season includes nine to 10 tropical storms, of which five to six are hurricanes and two are classified as intense hurricanes.

"The intensified hurricane activity may be influenced in part by a lingering La Ni¤a episode, which our scientists expect to continue at its current strength through the hurricane season, and which could help maintain conditions favoring increasing hurricane activity," said D. James Baker, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration administrator. La Ni¤a refers to cooler-than-average sea-surface temperatures across the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, which historically have contributed to a greater number of hurricanes in the Atlantic during a given season.

In June, all National Weather Service forecast offices will be fully upgraded with advanced interactive computer systems, a centerpiece of a $4.5 billion modernization program that has been a priority of the Clinton Administration. The modernization also includes new technologies such as Doppler radar, satellites, and a state-of-the-art hurricane surveillance jet.

"The increased capabilities provided by these technologies enable us to better forecast hurricane-related weather and flooding, and get out more timely warnings that may save lives," said John J. Kelly Jr., National Weather Service director.

Last year, NOAA's Climate Prediction Center issued its first-ever Atlantic hurricane outlook in early August to indicate whether the remaining season would bring increased, lessened, or normal activity. The scientists accurately predicted that there would be an above-normal number of tropical storms and hurricanes in the Atlantic between August and October, the busiest period of the hurricane season. The 1998 Atlantic hurricane season brought 14 tropical cycles, including three major hurricanes. These storms inflicted $7.3 billion in damages and 23 fatalities in the United States alone.

NOAA will update its current outlook in August.

Joe Fisher, Houston

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