Rapid warming of the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) and a collapsing El Nino pattern in the Pacific could create 16-18 named storms during the upcoming Atlantic hurricane season, which would make 2010 one of the most active seasons on record, according to AccuWeather.com Chief Long Range Forecaster Joe Bastardi.

“From the standpoint of the number of storm threats from the tropics to the United States coastline, we will at least rival 2008, and in the extreme case, this season could end up in a category only exceeded by 2005,” Bastardi said.

There have been only eight hurricane seasons in the past 160 years in which 16 or more storms have formed, Bastardi said. Nine named storms formed during 2009, including three hurricanes, two of them intense (Category Three or greater).

The 2008 Atlantic hurricane season produced a record number of consecutive storms to strike the United States and included a total of 16 named storms including eight hurricanes, five of them intense (see NGI, Dec. 1, 2008). While none of 2008’s named storms developed into a Category Five hurricane, three hurricanes made landfall along the U.S. Gulf Coast, the second highest total since 1985, and Hurricane Ike was among the most damaging hurricanes in U.S. history. The Minerals Management Service said 60 oil and gas production platforms were destroyed by hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008.

The 2005 season was even more active and damaging to energy infrastructure, with 26 named storms, 14 hurricanes and seven intense hurricanes wreaking havoc on the oil and natural gas industry, onshore and in the Gulf of Mexico, among them hurricanes Katrina and Rita (see NGI, Dec. 12, 2005).

GOM warming, the fading El Nino and other current weather patterns are similar to patterns preceding the 1998 and 2005 hurricane seasons and the Atlantic Basin looks “textbook” for a major season, with many long track storms that make their way from off the coast of Africa into the western Atlantic and Caribbean heading toward the United States coastline, Bastardi said. By the heart of the season there will be a “congregation of tracks,” or a concentrated area where many of the storm tracks will pass through, he said.

The Atlantic hurricane season officially begins on June 1. Bastardi’s forecast team expects one or two tropical storms to form by early July and a total of at least six storms to impact the U.S. coastline before the season ends Nov. 30.

Bastardi’s latest hurricane forecast is largely unchanged from his initial prognostication in March (see NGI, March 15) and is generally inline with recent forecasts issued by Andover, MA-based WSI Corp. (see NGI, April 26) and scientists at Colorado State University (see NGI, April 12). WSI is scheduled to release an updated hurricane forecast Tuesday (May 26).

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center has also predicted an active Atlantic hurricane season based on a faltering El Nino (see NGI, Feb. 8). NOAA, which had been scheduled to release on Thursday an updated hurricane outlook, on Wednesday said it was postponing its release by one week.

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