As the winter heating season winds to a close, the natural gas industry is now looking towards the summer cooling season and the Atlantic hurricane season for indicators on the direction of natural gas prices. Special attention is being paid to the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season, which forecasters expect to be overly active. Focus on the hurricane season is even greater as Gulf of Mexico oil and gas producers continue to pick up the pieces six months after Hurricane Katrina’s devastation.

As of Feb. 22 (the most recent update from the Minerals Management Service), shut-in natural gas production from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita stood at 1.504 Bcf/d, which is equivalent to 15.04% of the daily gas production in the Gulf. Since Aug. 26, 2005, the cumulative shut-in gas production from the storms totals 652.629 Bcf, which is equivalent to 17.88% of the Gulf’s 3.65 Tcf of yearly gas production.

The 2005 Atlantic hurricane season produced record numbers of named tropical storms (27), hurricanes (15), and Category-5 hurricanes (three), with Hurricane Emily likely to be upgraded as the fourth, according to Weather 2000. “These off-the-charts Tropical frequencies have set an anticlimactic benchmark, but also underscore the latest active multi-decadal cycle which the Atlantic Basin is in the midst of, and warrants awareness, caution and preparation,” the New York-based forecasting service said.

Looking at the 2006 Atlantic season, Weather 2000 said its research, along with atmospheric and oceanographic parameters, are pointing towards a lot of activity. The company said it would not be surprised to see 15-22 named storms, eight-13 hurricanes and four-seven intense hurricanes.

The Colorado State forecasting team, which is now led by Philip J. Klotzbach, is a little more conservative in its prediction. The team’s 2006 Atlantic hurricane outlook calls for 17 named tropical storms (9.6 is average) of which nine would be Hurricanes (5.9 is average) of which five would be intense hurricanes (2.3 is average).

Weather 2000 pointed out that the recent development of weak La Niña conditions could contribute to a summer environment that looks to be even more conducive for tropical development than was the case last year at this time.

Despite Hurricane Katrina’s significant path of destruction on and off shore, Weather 2000 said things could be worse. The forecasting firm pointed out that not a single hurricane made landfall last year as a Category 4 or Category 5 storm. In addition, it has been decades since a direct hurricane hit has been made on major hubs, such as Houston/Galveston, with only three hurricanes of Category 4/5 striking anywhere from Brownsville, TX to Fort Myers, FL since 1950. “Due to atmospheric parameters and SST projections, our research concludes that there are above-average odds that a hurricane will make landfall in the U.S. as a Category 4/5 in 2006,” Weather 2000 said.

The company also warned that the Mid-Atlantic coastal zone, even though no hurricane since 1950 has ever directly struck between the Outer Banks of North Carolina and New York City, could be in danger as well. “The region has been impacted by storms traversing up the Atlantic states (i.e. Floyd), but time will eventually run out on avoiding direct primary landfalls (i.e. the 1938 NYC Hurricane),” Weather 2000 said. “Due to steering mechanisms and SST projections, our research concludes that there are high odds that at least one hurricane will make landfall along the U.S. Mid-Atlantic Coast in 2006.”

The company said the 2005 season has also forced forecasters to redefine the traditional hurricane season’s timing. While the accepted “set in stone” calendar boundaries run from June 1 to Nov. 30, Weather 2000 noted that Tropical Storm Arlene was classified on June 8, 2005 and Tropical Storm Zeta classified on Dec. 30, 2005. “To truly capture 99% of all tropical storms, particularly during active cycles, understand that they can form in essentially an 8-month span ranging from May through December.”

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