The final four months of the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season are likely to pack a punch for the Gulf of Mexico and the U.S. coastline, according to forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), who on Thursday released an updated forecast calling for a 90% chance of an above normal season.

“Everything is in place for a very active year,” said Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at the NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

The 2010 hurricane season, which runs until Nov. 30, has gotten off to a quiet start. The first two named storms of the season, Hurricane Alex and Tropical Storm Bonnie, created little threat to GOM oil and natural gas production. A third named storm, Tropical Storm Colin, collapsed this week while still about 150 miles east-northeast of the Leeward Islands but stands a 50% chance regaining tropical storm status over the next couple of days, the National Weather Service (NWS) said Thursday morning.

Despite the slow start to what most forecasters say could be an above-average hurricane season, “the key message is that significant activity is still predicted for the remainder of the season,” Bell said. Two months of relative calm in the Gulf of Mexico at the beginning of the season shouldn’t lull anyone to sleep, he said.

“Historically for above-normal seasons we tend to see three to four named storms in the Gulf of Mexico. For the August to November period, which is what we’re coming into now, historically these above-normal seasons have three named storms getting into the Gulf. So there’s certainly a threat of storms getting into the Gulf of Mexico.”

A recently formed La Nina event — an unusual cooling of ocean surface temperatures off the western coast of South America — the tropical multi-decadal signal and warmer-than-average water in the tropical Atlantic and Caribbean all favor the formation of an unusually high number of tropical storms, according to NOAA forecasters.

“All indications are for considerable activity during the next several months,” Bell said. “As we’ve seen in past years, storms can come on quickly during the peak months of the season. There remains a high likelihood that the season could be very active, with the potential of being one of the more active on record.”

NOAA’s updated outlook calls for a 70% probability of a total of 14-20 named storms (including Alex, Bonnie and Colin), including eight to 12 hurricanes, four to six of them intense (Category Three or greater). The upper bounds of those ranges have been lowered since NOAA’s initial 2010 outlook (see Daily GPI, May 28), which reflected the possibility of even more early season activity, Bell said.

NOAA’s updated forecast numbers are well above the 1950-2009 average of 10 named storms, six hurricanes and three intense hurricanes and slightly above the more recent 1995-2009 average of 14 named storms, eight hurricanes and four intense hurricanes. Nine named storms formed during 2009, including three hurricanes, two of them intense.

Colorado State University (CSU) forecasters on Wednesday said they expect the remaining months of the 2010 season to produce as many as 18 named storms, including 10 hurricanes, five of them intense (see Daily GPI, Aug. 5). The CSU team said it anticipates a “well above-average probability” of a major hurricane making landfall in the United States and the Caribbean. Chief Long Range Forecaster Joe Bastardi has said 2010 could be one of the most active seasons on record (see Daily GPI, May 20) and WSI Corp., which had increased its Atlantic hurricane forecast three times this year, last month lowered its expectations from 20 named storms to 19, while keeping its prediction that there will be 11 hurricanes and five intense hurricanes (see Daily GPI, July 21).

NOAA has said the maturing La Nina could also bring with it above-normal temperatures for the southern and eastern United States, and an increased chance of precipitation for the Gulf Coast and Southeast (see Daily GPI, July 16). According to Bastardi, cooling Pacific surface temperatures will influence weather across the United States this winter (see Daily GPI, Aug. 4).

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