LA Times: more hurricanes this year


Richard Moore


Forecasts warn major hurricane likely in October

Though late-season storms normally head for Florida, scientists won't rule
out another hit on the Gulf Coast.

By Usha Lee McFarling
Los Angeles Times
Posted September 28 2005, 2:17 PM EDT

Meteorologists examining the conditions that spawned
hurricanes Rita and Katrina say there is a strong likelihood
that another intense hurricane will occur in October.

And while late-season storms tend to track eastward toward
Florida or don't make landfall at all, the experts don't rule
out the possibility of another major storm targeting the
battered Gulf Coast.

Researchers also warn that the country should brace for 10 to
40 more years of powerful storms because of a natural ocean
cycle in the midst of the most active hurricane period on

"This has been the seventh hyperactive year since 1995," Stan
Goldenberg, a meteorologist with the Hurricane Research
Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration, said this month. "Not every year is going to
be like this one, but there's going to be plenty of active
years to come."

The hurricane season does not end until Nov. 30, and a
forecast group is predicting that October will see two
hurricanes, one of them reaching Category 3, 4 or 5. The
chance of that storm making landfall in the United States is
estimated at 21%, said Philip J. Klotzbach, a member of the
tropical storm forecasting team led by William M. Gray of
Colorado State University.

Klotzbach's forecast does not address where hurricanes make
landfall or whether the Gulf Coast could be hit again. "It's a
tricky business tracking where these storms are going to go,"
he said. "That's governed a lot more by day-to-day weather."

Goldenberg said he "would not be surprised" if the Gulf Coast
was hit again, because the same conditions that nudged Rita
and Katrina toward the region are in place. Goldenberg, who
helps develop NOAA's early-season forecasts, said he expected
at least one to three more storms, including a major
hurricane. Hurricane forecasters have their eye on a weather
disturbance in the tropics that "could be Hurricane Stan," he

"This season is not over," said Goldenberg, whose Florida home
was destroyed by Hurricane Andrew in 1992. "If I was in the
Gulf Coast right now, I'd prepare. Even a tropical storm could
do a lot of damage."

Historical patterns show it would be unusual but not
impossible for the Gulf Coast to be hit with a major October
storm. In the fall, most tropical storms that form near the
Bahamas, as Rita and Katrina did, are steered north by weather
patterns that deflect them harmlessly out to sea, toward the
Bahamas or either coast of Florida, said Christopher W.
Landsea, a hurricane researcher with the National Hurricane
Center in Miami.

"Texas and Louisiana are at much less risk later in the
season," he said.

The Colorado State team bases its forecast on an amalgam of
pressures, wind speeds and ocean temperatures from around the
globe. The weather experts also rely on a simple rule: "When
September is active, October tends to be active," Klotzbach

Peak hurricane activity ends by Oct. 10, according to the
National Hurricane Center, but big storms can occur later in
the season. Hurricane Mitch, a Category 5 storm, caused an
estimated 9,000 deaths and left 9,000 people missing when it
struck Central America in late October 1998; it hit southern
Florida as a tropical storm on Nov. 5 and caused an estimated
$40 million in damage.

Even Atlantic hurricanes that morph into monsters, like
Katrina, start out as weaklings: mere waves in the atmosphere
or feeble weather systems trailing small rainstorms as they
drift west across the ocean.

When they hit deep, warm pockets of water, moist ocean air is
pulled upward, condensing into clouds and cooling. This
movement of air produces gusty winds and thunderstorms. The
energy released by the rain is then pumped back up into the
clouds, making them rise taller, spin faster and grow into the
large cyclonic systems that have become so familiar in recent

Large patches of warm water are needed to sustain and
strengthen hurricanes. The area also must be free of wind
shear -- differences in wind speeds at high and low levels of
the atmosphere -- which can shred the storm.

Forecasters say the most dreaded storms are "Cape Verde
hurricanes." These storms, which begin as atmospheric
disturbances flowing off western Africa, form near Cape Verde
and often grow massive as they travel across the Atlantic,
unimpeded by dry land or cool water. Cape Verde hurricanes
usually account for a season's most intense storms; 85% of
major Atlantic hurricanes have been of this type.

What was unusual about Rita and Katrina was that they formed
close to U.S. shores, near the Bahamas. This means they did
not have much time to grow powerful before first hitting land.
Both storms swelled to Category 5 in the Gulf of Mexico, where
waters are 2 to 3 degrees warmer than normal.

Gerry Bell, the lead scientist for NOAA's hurricane forecast
program, said large-scale weather patterns, including a
high-pressure system off the eastern United States, created an
area of favorable hurricane formation farther west this year.
Once the storms formed off the Bahamas, weather patterns that
act as "steering currents" pushed them farther west into the
Gulf of Mexico and toward Texas and Louisiana. "They really
had nowhere else to go," Bell said.

"We saw a similar thing last year when several hurricanes hit
Florida," he said. "That was the same thing: a focused
steering current."

Bell and fellow forecasters predict that ferocious storms will
occur for the next several decades.

They cite a natural ocean cycle called the Atlantic
Multi-Decadal scale, which causes weather in the tropical
Atlantic to seesaw between cool, windy phases and warm periods
with slack winds, spawning frequent, strong hurricanes.

These phases are driven by two massive weather patterns that
control monsoon rains over the Amazon and Africa, said Bell.

The continent-sized patterns last for decades and "are so
dominant, they control ocean temperature and wind conditions,"
Bell said.

The historical record shows an active hurricane period during
the 1950s and '60s and a lull between 1970 and 1994. Since
1995, hurricane activity has once again been high.

"This is a long-term, active hurricane era," Bell said.

The active period coincides with a global rise in sea
temperatures of about 1 degree -- a change most scientists
attribute to global warming caused by mankind's production of
greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide.

Whether global warming is contributing to stronger hurricanes
is a subject of intense debate within the scientific

Experts on both sides of the debate agree that it will take
years to determine what effect global warming may have on
future hurricanes.

In the meantime, they are bracing for more storms.

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Richard Moore (rkm)
Wexford, Ireland

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