Forecasters expect busy hurricane season

The National Weather Service predicts 13 to 17 named storms and seven to 10 hurricanes.

Published May 23, 2007

Get ready for another season of getting ready.

The National Weather Service became the latest group of experts on Tuesday to predict a busier-than-average hurricane season for the Atlantic region beginning June 1.

No one really knows what will happen until storms called Barry, Chantal, Dean, Erin, Felix and their siblings begin swirling across the seas.

But the Weather Service's predictions - made late in the year and therefore considered more reliable - are disturbingly similar to earlier outlooks calling for a busy season with potentially dangerous storms.

The Weather Service on Thursday said there was a 75 percent chance this year's June-through-November hurricane season would be busier than normal. The center predicts 13 to 17 named storms, seven to 10 hurricanes and three to five hurricanes that are Category 3 or stronger.

That follows other climate experts' predictions calling for 17 named storms and nine hurricanes.

What does it all mean? It means we're more likely to be nervously plotting hurricane paths like we did in 2004 and 2005, and less likely to breathe a sigh of relief as we did last year.

But whether Florida will actually get hit is not something anyone can say yet.

Federal and local officials say the new prediction is a reminder for everyone to pack up a hurricane kit and figure out where they'll stay just in case the Big One hits.

"It just takes one to make it a bad year," says Conrad Lautenbacher, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Forecasting the number of storms months in advance is a tricky business. Experts predicted a busy season last year, but relatively few of the severe storms materialized. So Florida was spared, a welcome relief after the repeated battering during the previous two years from storms like Hurricane Charley.

This year, the Weather Service cites two major factors in its forecast:

- Climate experts already have concluded that we are in the midst of a prolonged period of increased hurricane activity. So unless something dramatic happens, we can expect more tropical storms and hurricanes.

- Last year, a complex weather phenomenon called El Nino interfered with hurricanes by creating strong crosswinds above the Atlantic Ocean that tend to saw the tops off the storms, causing them to weaken. This year, however, El Nino conditions have gone away. That means we can't count on those high crosswinds to break up the storms as they did last year. In other words, conditions for hurricanes are likely to be better.

Fear of complacency

Researchers say we may be in a period of La Nina, a weather pattern that is roughly the opposite of El Nino and oftentimes is marked by increased Florida storms. The Weather Service's experts said it's not clear yet if La Nina conditions have taken hold.

Hurricanes make everyone nervous, but a lack of hurricanes can make emergency management directors nervous. They worry that a carefree year like 2006 will make too many people complacent.

"The residents need to be prepared," said Jim Martin, Pasco County's emergency management director.

Pinellas County spokesman Tom Iovino agreed. A season with many storms is likely to get more people's attention, he said.

But he points out that 1992 was a light season for tropical storms, and that didn't help South Florida residents who got smashed that year by Hurricane Andrew.

Several officials recommend reading printed and online hurricane guides prepared by several media including the St. Petersburg Times, and by going to Web sites such as www.floridadisaster.org.

"It doesn't really matter how many storms you get, between June 1 and Nov. 30 you better be paying attention," Iovino said.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.