Apr 232009
Authors: Stephen Lin

While they cannot pinpoint the occurrence of individual storms, the CSU Tropical Meteorology Project team predicts an average hurricane season with 12 named storms forming in the Atlantic basin between June 1 and Nov. 30.

Six of these storms could become hurricanes, and two have the potential to become intense or major hurricanes, a Category 3, 4 or 5 under the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, which is used to classify tropical cyclones in the Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean.

“As best as we can tell now, we’re in for an average season,” said TMP member and CSU Professor William Gray, who has been predicting hurricanes for 26 years.

Hurricanes in these three categories attain wind speeds of 111 mph or greater, said Gray and Phil Klotzbach, lead forecaster, both of whom have spent years honing their skills in order to accurately predict the upcoming hurricane season.

The Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory said on their Web site that storms are given names to provide an ease of communication between forecasters and the public.

AOML also stated that the terms hurricane and typhoon are region-specific names for strong tropical cyclones. Typhoons refer to the northwest Pacific Ocean west of the dateline, while hurricane refers to the North Atlantic Ocean and northeast Pacific Ocean east of the dateline.

Klotzbach warned at looking at the recent prognostications as certainties.

“When you look at the forecast, it’s a guideline,” he cautioned.

The team’s forecast calculates:

A 54 percent chance that a major hurricane will make landfall on the U.S.

A 32 percent chance that a major hurricane will strike the east coast, including Florida, and

A 31 percent chance that a hurricane will hit the Gulf Coast, from Florida’s panhandle to Brownsville, Texas.

Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana as a Category 3 in 2005, claiming about 1,500 lives. With this, it earned the title of the third deadliest hurricane to hit the U.S., behind the 1990 Galveston Hurricane, which killed about 8,000 people and the 1928 Lake Okeechobee Hurricane, which killed 2,500 people.

TMP’s predictions are based on the chance for a weak El Nino event in 2009.

By looking at data from the ocean, the atmosphere and the strengths of El Nino and La Nina, the researchers can make their predictions. They compare years of collected data to itself and to the accumulated information of pre-existing conditions from the past 60 years.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, El Nino is an oscillation of the ocean-atmosphere system in the tropical Pacific. In contrast with La Nina, which is characterized by unusually cold ocean temperature, El Nino is characterized by unusually warm ocean temperature.

“Empirically there are certain atmospheric and ocean conditions that can be different between active and inactive hurricane seasons,” Gray said.

The information published by the team benefits people living in the area, providing them with information so they can prepare their homes for potential storms.

“People on the coast line are curious and want to know how the hurricane season is going to be,” Klotzbach said.

He added though that Colorado weather is much easier to chart than the ever-fluctuating nature of the waters.

“The weather around here is a lot more changeable,” said Klotzbach, who came to CSU in the fall of 2000.

“It’s a lot easier to predict the hurricane season.”

Staff Writer Stephen Lin can be reached at news@collegian.com.

CSU Tropical Meteorology Team Predictions for 2009

A 54 percent chance that at least one major hurricane will make landfall on the U.S. coastline in 2009 (the long-term average probability is 52 percent).

A 32 percent chance that a major hurricane will make landfall on the U.S. East Coast, including the Florida Peninsula (the long-term average is 31 percent).

A 31 percent chance that a major hurricane will make landfall on the Gulf Coast from the Florida Panhandle west to Brownsville (the long-term average is 30 percent).

Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale

*Wind Speeds in mph

Category 1: 74-95

Category 2: 96-110

Category 3: 111-130

Category 4: 131-155

Category 5: greater than 156

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