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Forecasters maintain active hurricane season warning

By Staff | Aug 3, 2011

As the fifth tropical storm of the season moves through the Carribean, weather forecasters continue to predict an active hurricane season.

On Wednesday, forecasters at Colorado State University released their fourth seasonal outlook for the Atlantic as Tropical Storm Emily marched toward the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Experts are predicting an active season for the Atlantic Ocean basin with 16 named storms forecast.

“The numbers we’re predicting are well above average,” Phil Klotzbach, a research scientist at CSU and co-author of the report, said Wednesday.

An average hurricane season consists of 11 to 12 named storms, which includes six hurricanes and two “major” hurricanes – Category 3, 4 and 5. Wednesday’s outlook is forecasting nine hurricanes and five major ones.

“It’s pretty much what we’re seeing,” Klotzbach said.

Hurricane season runs from June 1 through Dec. 1 with the most active period popping up at about the middle of August to the middle of October.

During 2010, there were 19 named stores, 12 hurricanes and five major hurricanes, according to Klotzbach. Despite no hurricanes making landfall, last year tied for second place as one of the most active seasons for the Atlantic Ocean basin – there also were 12 hurricanes recorded in 1969.

The most active season on record was 2005 with 15 hurricanes.

No hurricanes have been recorded yet this year, but there have been five tropical storms. Prior to Emily, there were Arlene, Bret, Cindy and Don.

“We’ve had a lot of storms, but they’ve been pretty weak and short lived,” Klotzbach said.

Arlene formed on June 27 and Cindy formed on July 20, both lasted about three days. Don came together on July 27 and dissipated about July 30, while Bret lasted the longest, forming on July 17 and sticking around until July 22.

Wednesday’s outlook mirrors the last forecast released in June.

“Basically, it is the same,” Klotzbach said.

There were a couple of reasons why forecasters kept it the same.

In late April and early June, there was continued warning in the tropical Pacific that researchers were concerned might lead to an El Nino.

“That didn’t happen,” Klotzbach said.

Forecasters instead are seeing average temperatures and neutral conditions, which can lend themselves to an increase in storms when combined with the favorable conditions present in the Atlantic basin.

“The (barometric) pressures in the Atlantic are quite low,” he said, referring to those conditions. “And the waters in the tropical Atlantic are warmer.”

According to Wednesday’s outlook, there is a 69 percent chance that a hurricane will impact Florida and a 32 percent chance of a major hurricane doing so. There is a 13 percent chance one or more hurricanes will make landfall along the coast from the Keys on up to just north of Tampa.

There is a 7 percent chance that one or more named storms will make landfall in Lee County and a 2 percent chance for one or more hurricanes. There is a 27 percent chance of Lee County experiencing tropical storm force wind gusts – equal to or less than 40 mph.

On Wednesday, Emily had reached maximum sustained winds of 50 mph.

“Basically, it so far has not found a favorable environment to develop and form a stronger system,” Anthony Reynes, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Tampa Bay office, said. “It’s not very well organized.”

The National Hurricane Center was predicting the storm would pass through Haiti and the Dominican Republic, then pass over the northern corner of Cuba while traveling northwest. Emily was expected to clip the southern Bahamas.

“It looks like it’s going to move close to the east coast of Florida, but they don’t have the system reaching the coastline,” Reynes said.

Emily was predicted to pass 50 to 60 miles from the coast on Saturday.

“That would mean a lot of rain,” he said, adding that weaker storms track a lot of moisture with them. “Likely, the strongest winds will remain offshore.”

Reynes and Klotzbach both urged preparedness and awareness.

“The thing to emphasize is now is the time to prepare and have a plan in place and know what you’re going to do,” Klotzbach said.

“Stay alert,” Reynes said. “This is just a projection. This is just a forecast.”

For more than two dozen years, Colorado State University has published the seasonal outlooks for the Atlantic Ocean as part of the Tropical Meteorology Project. Each season the project releases several forecasts, starting Dec. 8.