With the year’s seventh named tropical storm, Hurricane Gustav, forecast to strengthen and possibly enter the southeastern Gulf of Mexico this weekend, WSI Corp. said its forecast for the Atlantic hurricane season remains unchanged, with 15 named storms, including nine hurricanes, four of them intense (Category Three or greater) to form by Nov. 30.

WSI forecasters said their expectations for an active hurricane season are based on the expected continuation of warmer-than-normal Atlantic Ocean temperature anomalies throughout the remainder of the season and the likelihood of a favorable or neutral wind shear environment on the heels of the recent La Nina event.

“Since 1995, most tropical seasons have been more active than the long-term averages, due to warmer Atlantic Ocean temperatures,” said WSI seasonal forecaster Todd Crawford. “This active regime has continued into the current year, with seven named storms already. This is slightly ahead of the pace of the active seasons of 2003-04, both of which had six named storms by this time. The wind shear environment has been relatively favorable for the development of tropical systems so far. The only negative factor is the increase in eastern tropical Pacific SST [sea surface temperature] anomalies, which is historically correlated with reduced tropical activity during the latter half of the season.”

WSI’s forecast numbers are significantly higher than the 1950-2007 averages of 9.7 named storms, 5.9 hurricanes and 2.3 intense hurricanes. After a preliminary forecast of 14 named storms, eight hurricanes with four of them intense (see Daily GPI, July 2), WSI last month increased by one the number of named storms and hurricanes that it predicted would form in the Atlantic Basin this year (see Daily GPI, July 23).

Most forecasters this year have called for an active or above-average Atlantic hurricane season. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center recently increased the number of named storms and hurricanes in its tropical storm forecast, saying atmospheric and oceanic conditions across the Atlantic Basin that favor storm development, combined with the strong activity seen in the early weeks of the season, had increased the likelihood of an above-normal hurricane season this year (see Daily GPI, Aug. 8). NOAA, which said in May there was a 60-70% chance of 12 to 16 named storms, including six to nine hurricanes, two to five of them major hurricanes (see Daily GPI, May 27), now sees a 67% change of 14 to 18 named storms, including seven to 10 hurricanes, three to six of them major hurricanes.

The Colorado State University (CSU) hurricane team also increased the number of storms it said will form in the Atlantic Basin this year, forecasting a total of 17 named storms, including nine hurricanes, five of them intense (see Daily GPI, Aug. 6). CSU forecasters had previously called for a well above-average hurricane season this year with 15 named storms forming in the Atlantic Basin (see Daily GPI, June 4).

MDA EarthSat forecasters also said the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season will likely be busier than average but quieter than last year (see Daily GPI, April 16). MDA EarthSat forecasters said 13 named storms, six hurricanes and three intense or major hurricanes are likely to form during the Atlantic hurricane season.

AccuWeather.com meteorologist Joe Bastardi said the East Coast will be at greater risk this coming hurricane season even though the number of named storms is expected to be about average, and Gulf of Mexico interests can expect seven to 10 days with at least the threat of weather disruptions (see Daily GPI, May 13).

In June the Energy Department’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) said it expected a total of 11.3 million bbl of crude oil and 78 Bcf of natural gas to be shut in in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) during the 2008 hurricane season (see Daily GPI, June 12). The prediction was based on the results of a Monte Carlo hurricane outage simulation, which is conditioned on how NOAA’s most recent predictions for the level of Atlantic Basin hurricane activity compare to historical activity, the EIA said. A report issued this summer by energy consultant IHS Inc. said the average impact on U.S. oil and natural gas production from Gulf of Mexico hurricanes over a 45-year period was “relatively modest” and the impact on energy supplies “typically short-lived” (see Daily GPI, June 5).

Gustav strengthened to a Category One hurricane early Tuesday and the National Hurricane Center’s (NHC) “five-day cone” of projected tracking had the storm remaining to the south of the Cuban island, which would allow it to continue strengthening (see related story). Gustav could become a Category Two hurricane (winds of 96-110 mph on the Saffir-Simpson scale) prior to an expected brush with the southwestern corner of Haiti later Tuesday before emerging into the southeastern corner of the GOM either late Saturday or early Sunday, NHC said.

The remains of Tropical Storm Fay, which had moved very slowly up Florida’s east coast before crossing the state last week, continue to dump heavy rains onto Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas as it slips northeast along the Appalachians.

Tropical Storm Arthur, the first tropical storm of the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season, developed May 31 in the western Caribbean Sea and wasted little time in moving ashore over Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, where it was downgraded to a tropical depression on June 1. Bertha meandered through much of the Atlantic between July 3 and July 20, threatening Bermuda and twice becoming a hurricane, but never threatened gas or oil interests.

In July Hurricane Dolly brought heavy rain and wind speeds of more than 100 mph when it made landfall at South Padre Island near Brownsville, TX. Minerals Management Service reported shut-ins of more than 600 MMcf/d of gas and 58,000 b/d of oil, along with 62 evacuated platforms and mobile drilling rigs associated with Dolly, which weakened to a tropical storm and then to a tropical depression as it passed into Mexican territory near Laredo, TX.

Also in July, Tropical Storm Cristobal stayed in the Atlantic as it traveled northeast, eventually being downgraded to an extratropical depression as it moved into cooler North Atlantic waters.

Tropical Storm Edouard, the fifth named storm of the year, came ashore in the Sabine Pass area of southeast Texas on Aug. 5. It never developed enough to attain hurricane status, but it remained a strong tropical storm while coming ashore with maximum sustained winds of 65 mph before weakening into a tropical depression and dissipating in north-central Texas.

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