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    Busier storm season forecast

    By DAVID BALLINGRUD

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published June 8, 2001


    When Tropical Storm Allison popped up suddenly in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this week, the National Hurricane Center said the early storm was not a sign that the current hurricane season will be more active than anticipated.

    Good news, for as long as it lasted.

    Now comes the nation's best-known hurricane expert to say the new season will be busier than first thought -- well above long-term averages.

    Colorado State University professor William Gray Thursday released an updated forecast, boosting the number of named storms from 10 to 12, the number of hurricanes from six to seven, and the number of intense hurricanes from two to three. The long-term averages are 9.3 named storms, 5.7 hurricanes and 2.2 intense storms.

    With the increase in number comes a greater possibility that hurricanes will hit Florida this year, too, Gray reported. "It just seems to us that things are looking more conducive for hurricanes than they did at the end of March," he said.

    A number of conditions, including heavy rains in West Africa, favor an increase in the number of storms, Gray said, but the biggest factor is a pool of warm water moving west-to-east across the Pacific called El Nino.

    Gray, and forecasters with the National Hurricane Center, had said the beginning of El Nino conditions might inhibit hurricane development in the Atlantic this year. An El Nino produces strong winds in the upper atmosphere that can blow the tops off developing storms in the Atlantic.

    An El Nino is indeed beginning, Gray said, but will exert only a "modest suppressing influence on 2001 hurricane activity."

    Gray will issue his final seasonal forecast Aug. 7.

    The remains of Allison, meanwhile, lingered over eastern Texas Thursday, producing heavy rains.

    The hurricane center reported the formation of a tropical wave in the far eastern Atlantic about 850 miles southwest of the Cape Verde Islands, but said development is not expected. The busiest months of the six-month hurricane season -- August, September and October -- are ahead.

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