The 2010 Atlantic hurricane season, which begins Tuesday (June 1) is expected to be “active to extremely active,” with 14-23 named storms, including eight to 14 hurricanes, three to seven of them intense (Category Three or greater), according to an outlook issued Thursday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center.

“If this outlook holds true, this season could be one of the more active on record,” said NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco.

While stressing that it does not make official hurricane landfall predictions, 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 Gulf of Mexico (GOM) and 95% of those seasons have produced at least two named storms in the GOM, NOAA said.

However, for the natural gas industry, the significance of GOM production in the U.S. supply picture is not what it once was. With the development of new shale drilling technology unlocking onshore reserves around the country, a hurricane cutting off Gulf supply is not as critical since increased onshore supplies and high storage levels would mitigate any losses from Gulf production.

“Depending upon the estimates you believe, the newly developed technologies to find and produce shale gas promise a source of domestic supply that could easily satisfy at least 100 years of our present demand,” Alcoa Inc.’s David Ciarlone told a GasMart 2010 audience in Chicago earlier this month (see Daily GPI, May 20).

Like other forecasters that have predicted more hurricanes this year, NOAA said a 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. Hurricane activity in the Atlantic may be further driven by the development of El Nino’s doppelganger, a La Nina event — the cooling of ocean surface temperatures off the western coast of South America — according to Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at the NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

“The main uncertainty in this outlook is how much above normal the season will be. Whether or not we approach the high end of the predicted ranges depends partly on whether or not La Nina develops this summer. At present we are in a neutral state, but conditions are becoming increasingly favorable for La Nina to develop,” Bell said.

It is not certain how a GOM hurricane would affect the oil spill caused by the explosion and sinking of drilling rig Deepwater Horizon (see Daily GPI, May 27) and cleanup efforts along the coast, according to Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Craig Fugate.

“I don’t think the oil is going to come ashore in a hurricane like it’s coming ashore now,” Fugate said. “That’s a question we’re asking the scientific community — what would it come ashore as? How would it look and would there have to be any different response? — and until we have that, we’re basing it upon the fact that we’ve had to do cleanup in the past of chemical spills, oil spills, tank farms and other petroleum products…[but] you’re not booming it or doing a lot of other stuff ahead of a hurricane.”

NOAA’s Atlantic hurricane forecast echoed several others issued in recent days. 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-based forecaster said it is more likely to raise than lower those numbers going forward.

“At this time, there is no strong argument to rebut the bold assertion that this season will at least approach the record 2005 levels of activity,” according to WSI seasonal forecaster Todd Crawford.

A total of 26 named storms, including 14 hurricanes and seven intense hurricanes, among them hurricanes Katrina and Rita, wreaked havoc on the oil and natural gas industry, onshore and in the 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. 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.

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