"Nasty" Hurricane Season Seen for U.S. East and Gulf Coasts

by Willie Drye
for National Geographic News
June 8, 2004

Long-range forecasters are predicting another worse-than-average hurricane season on the United States East and Gulf Coasts. The experts predict as many as four major hurricanes during the June-to-October hurricane season. An average season produces two.

Forecasters also are wondering how much longer the most powerful hurricanes will continue to steer away from the southeast coast or dissipate before making landfall.

"Nasty-Looking Situation"

Since 1995 about 30 Atlantic Ocean hurricanes have developed into major hurricanes—storms rated at or above Category Three on the Saffir-Simpson scale, which classifies hurricanes according to their wind speeds.

A Category Three hurricane has winds exceeding 110 miles (177 kilometers) an hour. A Category Five hurricane—the most powerful rating on the Saffir-Simpson scale—has winds in excess of 155 miles (250 kilometers) an hour.

Since 1995 only a few hurricanes—including Opal in 1995, Fran in 1996, and Brett in 1999—have come ashore in the U.S. as major hurricanes, however. Most major hurricanes weaken before making landfall.

William Gray, a Colorado State University meteorologist and pioneer of long-range hurricane forecasting, said coastal residents in the United States have been lucky. "This just can't go on," Gray said. "Something's got to give."

Meteorologist Joe Bastardi of the Pennsylvania-based AccuWeather weather-forecasting company thinks the Gulf Coast could really take a beating this summer. "We're in a situation similar to the late 1940s and early 1950s, when we saw several years in a row of high-intensity hurricanes forming," Bastardi said. "It's a nasty-looking situation down there."

Three Major Hurricanes Predicted

The exact number of storms expected to form on the Atlantic during the coming hurricane season varies slightly depending on whom you ask.

Gray says there will be 14 tropical storms, which will spawn 8 hurricanes. An average season produces only 5 or 6 hurricanes.

Of his predicted eight hurricanes, Gray forcasts that three of them will be major.

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