New Hurricane-Forecast Tool Debuts (And Just in Time)

April 20, 2005

With another active hurricane season expected in a few months, meteorologists and insurance companies will have a new forecasting tool to help them predict whether late-season storms will again batter the U.S. coastline.

Researchers at England's University College London have devised a computer model that uses data from midsummer winds to predict the likelihood of hurricanes striking the United States later in the season.

The model was created by scientists at the college's Benfield Hazard Research Centre. The center is sponsored by Benfield, a London-based reinsurance company that is one of the world's largest.

The new model could get a real workout right from the start. Forecasters think a ten-year trend of active hurricane seasons will continue this summer.

William Gray, a pioneer in long-range hurricane forecasting who is based at Colorado State University, thinks seven hurricanes will form in the Atlantic Basin this year. (The region includes the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.) The professor of atmospheric science predicts that three of those storms will be major ones, with winds exceeding 111 miles an hour (179 kilometers an hour).

Gray believes there's a better-than-even chance that one of those intense hurricanes will make landfall somewhere on the U.S. east coast.

Gray also thinks the U.S. Gulf Coast faces a higher-than-usual risk of taking a hit from a major hurricane, although not as high as the Atlantic Coast.

Hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30.

Computer Model

The computer model developed by University College London researchers analyzes data from July wind patterns from sea level up to about 25,000 feet (about 7,500 meters).

The model predicts whether the winds are forming "steering currents." Such currents would guide hurricanes to the U.S. shores from August through October, when most storms form.

Last summer those steering currents helped shove five hurricanes ashore—four in Florida and one in North Carolina.

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