National Geographic Daily News
A hurricane-devastated marsh.

A U.S. Gulf Coast marsh devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 (file photo).

Photograph by Tyrone Turner, National Geographic

Willie Drye

for National Geographic News

Published August 4, 2010

The 2010 Atlantic hurricane season has been relatively quiet so far, but things are about to heat up, meteorologists say.

Low wind shear and very warm water in the Atlantic Basin will spark a dramatic increase in hurricane formation in August and September, according to a newly updated hurricane forecast.

This morning forecasters William Gray and Phil Klotzbach of Colorado State University released their prediction that 18 named tropical storms will form before hurricane season ends November 30.

The pair thinks ten of those storms will become hurricanes, with winds of at least 74 miles (119 kilometers) an hour. Five of those will strengthen into major hurricanes, with winds exceeding 110 miles (177 kilometers) an hour, the forecasters predict.

Hurricanes May Stay Strong Along U.S. Northeast

The updated forecast is based in part on the recent formation of a weather phenomenon known as La Niña, a cooling of waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean.

La Niña reduces wind shear over the Atlantic Basin, which includes the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico. The reduced wind shear means that upper-level winds are less likely to disrupt hurricane formation.

The update also notes that Atlantic waters are very warm right now, and hurricanes draw their energy from warm ocean water. These factors are "very conducive for an active Atlantic season," Klotzbach said in a statement.

This season's slow start may have created a "false sense of security," agreed meteorologist Keith Blackwell of the University of South Alabama's Coastal Weather Research Center, who was not involved in the updated forecast.

But "I think in a couple or three weeks, maybe a little longer, we'll have a lot of activity," Blackwell said. (Related: "Hurricane Alex Spawns Tornadoes; Could've Been Stronger.")

In fact, the meteorologist says he has made no plans for much of August and September, because he expects to be busy monitoring hurricanes.

What's more, Blackwell said, this season the Atlantic is warmer than normal along the U.S. eastern seaboard.

Cooler waters usually start diminishing a hurricane's power if it reaches Cape Hatteras, North Carolina (map). But this year's conditions could allow a hurricane to maintain its intensity farther north than usual, he said.

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