The Atlantic hurricane season, which officially began this week, will be “very active,” with 18 named storms, including 10 hurricanes, five of them intense (Category Three or greater), forming before the season ends Nov. 30, according to Colorado State University (CSU) forecasters.

“We have increased our forecast from early April [see Daily GPI, April 8] due to a combination of a transition from El Nino to current neutral conditions and the continuation of unusually warm tropical Atlantic sea surface temperatures,” said CSU forecaster William Gray. “We anticipate a well above-average probability of United States and Caribbean major hurricane landfall.”

Current climate factors are similar to conditions that occurred during the 1958, 1966, 1969 and 2005 seasons, and the CSU team predicted that the 2010 season will have hurricane activity in line with the average of those above-average years. A total of 26 named storms, including 14 hurricanes and seven intense hurricanes, among them Katrina and Rita, wreaked havoc on the oil and natural gas industry, onshore and in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM), during the 2005 season (see Daily GPI, Dec. 7, 2005). That was well above the 1950-2009 average of 10 named storms, six hurricanes and three intense hurricanes. Nine named storms formed during 2009, including three hurricanes, two of them intense.

The probability of a major hurricane making landfall along the U.S. coastline this year is 76% compared with the last-century average of 52%, according to the CSU forecast. There is a 65% probability of at least one major hurricane tracking into the Caribbean this year (up from 58% in CSU’s April forecast), and a 51% probability of at least one major hurricane making landfall on the Gulf Coast between the Florida Panhandle and Brownsville, TX (up from 44% in the previous forecast).

The Caribbean looks to be “very active,” with overall tropical cyclone activity approaching levels experienced in 2004 and 2005, which could have an impact on the cleanup of the oil spill in the Gulf, according to CSU lead forecaster Phil Klotzbach.

“If the storm tracks to the west of the oil, there is the potential that the counterclockwise circulation of the hurricane could drive some of the oil further towards the U.S. Gulf Coast,” Klotzbach said. “We do not expect that the oil slick will have much of an impact on any tropical storm or hurricane that passes over the area.”

An active hurricane season in the Gulf of Mexico could certainly impact natural gas supply, but it likely would not be as significant of a blow as in the past thanks to new shale drilling technology that is unlocking onshore gas reserves around the country.

This new supply dynamic might have been responsible for Tuesday’s decline in natural gas futures. It was the first time in three years that the market failed to post gains on the first official day of the Atlantic hurricane season (see Daily GPI, June 2).

CSU’s forecast was in line with others released recently, most of them saying the weakening El Nino in the eastern Pacific and above-average sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic will be the primary drivers behind the increased tropical storm activity. WSI Corp. has said it expects a “hyperactive” season with 18 named storms, including 10 hurricanes, five of them intense (see Daily GPI, May 26). The Andover, MA-based forecaster said it is more likely to raise than lower those numbers going forward. Chief Long Range Forecaster Joe Bastardi has said rapid GOM warming and the collapsing El Nino pattern could create 16-18 named storms during the Atlantic hurricane season, which would make 2010 one of the most active seasons on record (see Daily GPI, May 20). 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.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center said it expects the 2010 season to be “active to extremely active,” with 14-23 named storms, including eight to 14 hurricanes, three to seven of them intense (see Daily GPI, May 28). NOAA said the probability of multiple hurricane strikes in the United States and in the region around the Caribbean increases sharply with exceptionally active seasons. All above-normal hurricane seasons in the past have produced at least one named storm in the GOM and 95% of those seasons have produced at least two named storms in the GOM, NOAA said.

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