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Hurricane Season Finally Shows, Prices Soar

Hurricane Season Finally Shows, Prices Soar

Don't put your duct tape and plywood away just yet. The lull in the Atlantic hurricane season finally broke last week with Tropical Storm Bret and Tropical Depression Four throwing a one-two punch to the gas market and triggering a more than 30-cent jump in Nymex Henry Hub futures prices, which broke $3 early on Friday. Meanwhile, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and renowned Colorado State University forecaster Dr. William M. Gray both recently reiterated their predictions that the hurricane season will be a whopper despite the early lull.

On Friday morning the National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane watch and a tropical storm warning for the Mexican Coast from La Pesca southward to Veracruz and warned residents along the Texas Coast to monitor the progress of Bret, which was in the Bay of Campeche. At 10 a.m. CDT the storm was near latitude 20.9 north longitude 94.6 west or about 230 miles east southeast of Tampico, Mexico, and moving 7 mph to the northwest and slowing. Maximum sustained winds were 65 mph and strengthening.

Whenever a major storm develops in the Gulf, producers are quick to react and late last week they were monitoring the situation closely. As of Friday morning, however, production platform operations were normal because of the less than 20% chance the storm would even reach as far north as Brownsville, TX, by Monday.

Meanwhile Tropical Depression Four with 35 mph winds was about 90 miles south southwest of the Cape Verde Islands in the Atlantic and moving west 9 mph with little change in strength expected over the next 24 hours.

The two storms came just a couple weeks after Dr. Gray said he was sticking with his previous forecast of much above average hurricane activity, including 14 named tropical storms (compared to the average of 9.3 per year), nine hurricanes (compared to the average 5.8) and four intense hurricanes (compared to the average of 2.2 per year). For the Gulf Coast region from Brownsville, TX, to Spring Hill, FL, Gray sees a 73% probability that a hurricane will make landfall this year compared to the average probability of only 60%. There's a 40% probability that an intense hurricane (category 3, 4 or 5) will make landfall on the Gulf Coast compared to the average probability of 30%, he said.

"The observation of only one named storm (tropical storm Arlene) up to Aug. 6 is judged to have little or no relationship to whether we will have an overall active or inactive hurricane season," Gray said. "Many very active hurricane seasons have experienced little hurricane activity until mid or late August."

Gray's conclusions closely matched those of NOAA scientists, who also released a forecast update earlier this month. NOAA's Climate Prediction Center (CPC) said it still expects three or more intense Atlantic hurricanes this season, and warned residents living in communities along the East and Gulf coasts to remain prepared.

"Last year we had fourteen named storms, and the first hurricane (Bonnie) didn't develop until mid-August," noted Gerald Bell, a research meteorologist with the CPC. "This year, many of the most prominent atmospheric and oceanic factors that can generate tropical storm and hurricane activity in the Atlantic basin are already in place, and are expected to persist through the season. Just because we haven't seen a hurricane yet this year, don't get fooled into thinking that this will be a light season."

He said hurricane producing conditions are expected to persist because of their strong link to existing patterns of tropical rainfall and cooler-than-average tropical Pacific Ocean temperatures (La Nina), both of which are expected to continue through the remainder of the hurricane season.

Two additional factors - reduced wind shear over the Caribbean Sea and a northward extension of deep tropical moisture and rainfall to the hurricane development region - which are typically observed during active hurricane seasons, are not yet in place but are expected to develop during the coming weeks, Bell added.

The observation of only one tropical storm in the Atlantic from June to early August is normal for this time of year, NOAA said in its update.

The 1998 hurricane season produced 14 tropical storms, including three major hurricanes. These storms inflicted $7.3 billion in damages and 23 fatalities in the United States alone. In an average season, the Atlantic Basin experiences between five and six hurricanes, two of which are severe and 1.5 storms make land fall.

Rocco Canonica

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