Up to Five Major Atlantic Hurricanes Forecast for 2007

WASHINGTON, DC, May 23, 2007 (ENS) - Sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean are cooling while Atlantic temperatures are warming - a climate recipe for an Atlantic hurricane season more active than normal, according to government scientists.

Just before the official hurricane season starts June 1, hurricane experts at the Climate Prediction Center operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, said Tuesday there is a 75 percent chance that the Atlantic hurricane season will be above normal this year.

"For the 2007 Atlantic hurricane season, NOAA scientists predict 13 to 17 named storms, with seven to 10 becoming hurricanes, of which three to five could become major hurricanes of Category 3 strength or higher," said NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher.

On August 28, 2005, one day before Hurricane Katrina made landfall, a NOAA employee photographed the storm's eyewall from a hurricane-hunter aircraft. (Photo courtesy NOAA)
Major Category 3 storms as rated on the Saffir-Simpson Scale bring sustained winds of 111 to 130 miles per hour. Category 4 storms bring winds of 131-155 mph, and Category 5 storms, the highest on the scale, pack winds greater than 155 mph.

An average Atlantic hurricane season brings 11 named storms, with six becoming hurricanes, including two major hurricanes.

At a news conference Tuesday at Reagan National Airport, officials from NOAA, the Air Force Reserve and the U.S. Coast Guard, stood with Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, Administrator David Paulison, and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to announce the updated forcast. The officials emphasized their commitment to federal agency teamwork as the hurricane season approaches.

At the Reagan Airport, David Paulison, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, urges preparedness for an active hurricane season ahead. (Photo by Bill Koplitz courtesy FEMA)
Chertoff said the federal government is prepared to respond with a set of tools never before assembled - new communication equipment, more ready supplies in place, and the ability to more rapidly register and track potentially displaced storm victims.

Climate patterns responsible for the expected 2007 hurricane activity continue to be the ongoing multi-decadal signal - the set of ocean and atmospheric conditions that spawn increased Atlantic hurricane activity, as well as warmer than normal sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean, and the El Niņo/La Niņa cycle in the Pacific.

Last year, seasonal hurricane predictions proved to be too high when an unexpected El Niņo rapidly developed and created a hostile environment for Atlantic storms to form and strengthen. When storms did develop, steering currents kept most of them over the open water and away from land.

La Niņa is characterized by unusually cold ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific, compared to El Niņo, when unusually warm ocean temperatures occur in the Equatorial Pacific. (Image courtesy NASA)
Historically, the next couple of months are a critical time period for the possible emergence of La Niņa.

"There is some uncertainty this year as to whether or not La Niņa will form, and if it does how strong it will be," said Gerry Bell, PhD, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at the NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

"The Climate Prediction Center is indicating that La Niņa could form in the next one to three months. If La Niņa develops, storm activity will likely be in the upper end of the predicted range, or perhaps even higher depending on how strong La Niņa becomes."

Bell says that even if La Niņa does not develop, the conditions associated with the ongoing active hurricane era still favor an above-normal season."

The NOAA forecast is in line with another closely watched forecast issued by the Colorado State University hurricane forecast team on April 3.

The Colorado State team of Bill Gray and Phil Klotzbach forecast that 17 named storms would form in the Atlantic basin between June 1 and November 30, when the official hurricane season ends.

Nine of the 17 storms are predicted to become hurricanes, and of those nine, five are expected to develop into intense or major hurricanes above Category 3, the Colorado team said.

"We are calling for a very active hurricane season this year, but not as active as the 2004 and 2005 seasons," said Klotzbach. "Based on our latest forecast, the probability of a major hurricane making landfall along the U.S. coastline is 74 percent compared with the last-century average of 52 percent.

The Colorado team projects a 50 percent chance that a major hurricane will make landfall on the U.S. East Coast, including the Florida Peninsula. By comparison, the long-term average is 31 percent.

They say there is a 49 percent chance that a major hurricane will make landfall on the Gulf Coast from the Florida Panhandle west to Brownsville, Texas. The long-term average is 30 percent.

Hurricane Wilma strikes Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula October 21, 2005. Two days earlier Wilma had surged from a tropical storm to Category 5 hurricane in record time. Winds around the eyewall of the storm were raging at 175 miles per hour. (Photo courtesy NASA)
The Colorado team also predicted an above-average major hurricane landfall risk in the Caribbean this season.

"With expectations for an active season, it is critically important that people who live in East and Gulf coastal areas as well as the Caribbean be prepared," said Bill Proenza, NOAA National Hurricane Center director. "Now is the time to update your hurricane plan, not when the storm is bearing down on you."

Secretary Chertoff also stressed the importance of preparedness. "It is an individual responsibility," he said.

Paulison encouraged citizens of storm prone areas to prepare a disaster kit. Residents should have a supply of non-perishable food and water to sustain their family for at least 72 hours, he said. The kits should also include first-aid supplies, prescription medicines and other important personal items.

Residents should have an evacuation plan, and be prepared to deal with pets in case evacuation is necessary.

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 through November 30, with peak activity occurring August through October.

The Atlantic Hurricane Seasonal Outlook is an official forecast product of the NOAA Climate Prediction Center. The Center will issue an updated seasonal forecast in August just before the historical peak of the season.