Record number of hurricanes predicted this year

HALIFAX – Just when cleanup crews in the oil-slicked Gulf of Mexico are hoping for months of undisturbed weather, hurricane forecasters in the United States and Canada warned Thursday that the summer and fall could bring more than a dozen of the storms hurtling into the Gulf, and up the East Coast of North America.

"We’re definitely expecting an above-average hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean," said Chris Fogarty, a supervisor at the Canadian Hurricane Centre, at a news conference in Halifax.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – the agency that forecasts the annual number of expected hurricanes – announced Thursday that it expects 14 to 23 named storms to develop in the equatorial waters of the mid-Atlantic this year.

NOAA said eight to 14 of those could turn into hurricanes, with winds reaching 118 kilometres an hour. Three to seven could become major Category 3 or higher hurricanes, with winds of at least 177 km/h.

That troubling forecast – 14 to 23 storms and eight to 14 hurricanes – far exceeds the 10 named storms and six hurricanes that have occurred each year, on average, between 1951 and 2009.

NOAA’s prediction was also supported this week by non-government forecasters in the U.S.

Hurricane experts at Colorado State University and at the private firm Weather Services International are also calling for a highly active hurricane season, from June to November.

Weather Services International said the 2010 season could be the most active since 2005, the busiest hurricane season in recorded history, and the year hurricane Katrina struck the U.S. Gulf coast and devastated New Orleans.

In Halifax, Fogarty cautioned that it’s difficult to accurately predict how many storms the season will bring. And even if a large number of storms develop in the Atlantic, he said, it’s even harder to know how many might move north into Canadian waters.

"There is the potential for these storms to curve up into our area, (but) the number that will move into the Canadian region is impossible to count," he said.

In 2005, for example, 28 named storms emerged in the open Atlantic, but only six had any impact on Canada.

"Our main message this year is, don’t worry too much about whether the hurricane season will be above or below normal," Fogarty said.

"Instead, be prepared and understand the risks to your property, and be prepared for these events that do come up our way."

Fogarty declined to speculate on whether Canada-bound storms could churn up oil from the leaking well in the Gulf of Mexico and move the slick into the Northwest Atlantic.

He and other experts say record warm surface ocean temperatures in the Atlantic tropics, where hurricanes take shape, plus a calming of strong, El Nino winds over the eastern Pacific Ocean – which sweep toward the Atlantic and break up developing hurricanes – are the main factors in their dire 2010 forecasts.

Last year, a serious hurricane season was also expected, but the El Nino winds broke apart many Atlantic storms before they could mature and gather strength.

"El Nino was in full force last year, producing strong, upper-level winds," said Fogarty.

"This year, with cooler waters in the Pacific, we’ll likely have much weaker winds, allowing storms to develop vertically in the atmosphere. That’s one of the biggest predictors."

Canada’s East Coast was affected by two storms last year – hurricane Bill, which just scraped the easternmost coast of Nova Scotia, and Tropical Storm Danny, which brought heavy winds and gusts. Neither storm caused serious damage.

In September 2003, hurricane Juan struck Halifax and other parts of the Maritimes, killing eight people and leaving $300 million of property damage in its wake.


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