Expert predicts 13 named storms

He says another busy season is likely because of deep ocean circulation patterns and decreased wind shear.

By Staff and wire reports
Published May 29, 2005

Hurricane forecast for 2005? Not as bad as 2004, but still plenty of room for some anxious moments.

Hurricane expert William Gray thinks the season, which runs from June 1 through Nov. 30, will be busier than normal with 13 named storms. He predicts seven of those will become hurricanes, and three of the hurricanes will be major - at least Category 3, which pack winds of 111-130 mph - with one or two hitting the United States.

Last year brought 15 named storms and nine hurricanes, six of them intense. Four of the hurricanes struck Florida, and another brushed the Carolina coast. In April 2004, Gray predicted 14 named storms, eight hurricanes and three major storms.

And if El Nino, an atmospheric condition that inhibits hurricane formation, fails to emerge by summer, the season could be even busier, said Gray, a Colorado State professor.

Gray said the main culprit behind the increase is deep ocean circulation patterns, which control the temperature of water at the surface. Faster currents produce warmer water at the surface. Like extra-dry kindling in a forest fire, warm water provides the fuel to initiate and sustain larger hurricanes.

Another factor this summer, Gray said, is decreased wind shear at certain levels in the atmosphere.

Less shear means storms have a better opportunity to develop their characteristic circular motion, and less of a chance to be ripped apart before threatening land.

Looking for a ray of hope? The Bermuda High, a ridge of high pressure over the Atlantic that was positioned in such a way last year that it drove hurricanes to Florida, apparently has weakened.

If that weakening continues, Atlantic storms could turn north before hitting the United States.

Gray puts the probability of an intense hurricane hitting the East Coast, which includes Florida, at 53 percent. The long-term average is 31 percent. For the Gulf Coast, from Florida west to Brownsville, Texas, the probability is 41 percent (long-term average: 30 percent).

Gray's team issues seasonal updates of the hurricane season forecast in early April, May 31, Aug. 5, Sept. 2 and Oct. 3.

-- Material from the Associated Press, Sun Sentinel, Houston Chronicle and Scripps Howard Newspapers was used in this report.