MIAMI — The 2006 Atlantic hurricane season will be very active with up to 10 hurricanes, although not as busy as record-breaking 2005, when Hurricane Katrina and several other monster storms slammed into the United States, the U.S. government's top climate agency said on Monday.
“NOAA is predicting 13 to 16 named storms, with eight to 10 becoming hurricanes, of which four to six could become 'major' hurricanes of Category 3 strength or higher,” said Conrad Lautenbacher, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The most damage is caused by storms that reach Category 3, with winds of 111-130 mph, or higher on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane activity.
“Historically, very active seasons have averaged 2-4 landfalling hurricanes in the continental United States and 2-3 hurricanes in the region around the Caribbean Sea,” the agency said in its report. “However, it is currently not possible to confidently predict at these extended ranges the number or intensity of landfalling hurricanes, and whether or not a given locality will be impacted by a hurricane this season.”
Water not as warm as '05
The report noted that water in the Atlantic is not as warm as it was at this stage in 2005. Warm water is a key fuel for hurricane development.
Also, it is not clear whether atmospheric conditions that helped produce the 2005 storms will repeat again this year, forecasters said. And it appears that the Pacific Ocean water conditions known as El Nino and La Nina will not have any impact on the Atlantic hurricane season this year, forecasters said.
The agency defines the Atlantic hurricane season as starting on June 1 and ending Nov. 30, though hurricanes have formed before and after that window.
The agency’s experts were way off the mark in their forecasts of last year’s hurricane season.
The 2005 hurricane season spawned an unprecedented 28 tropical storms, of which 15 became hurricanes — that, too, was a record. NOAA had predicted 12 to 15 tropical storms, of which it said seven to nine would be hurricanes. Seven of last year’s hurricanes were considered “major,” while NOAA had predicted only three to five would reach that level.
A record four major hurricanes hit the United States, including Katrina, which devastated New Orleans, killed 1,300 people and caused $80 billion in damage. Rita slammed into Louisiana and Texas, and Wilma briefly became the most intense Atlantic hurricane ever recorded.
The average six-month hurricane season has 11 tropical storms, of which six strengthen into hurricanes when their maximum sustained winds reach at least 74 mph.
Busy cycle could last years
The Atlantic seasons were relatively mild from the 1970s through 1994. Since then, all but two years have been above normal.
Between 1995 and 2005, the Atlantic season has averaged 15 named storms, just over eight named hurricanes and four major hurricanes, according to the National Hurricane Center. Before this latest above-normal cycle, from 1971 to 1994, there were an average of 8.5 named storms, five hurricanes and just over one major hurricane.
U.S. hurricane experts say the sharp rise in storm activity is related to a natural shift in climatic conditions and sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic that is expected to last from 15 to 40 years.
Some climatologists, however, say there are indications that human-induced global warming could be increasing the average intensity of tropical cyclones, although there is no evidence to date that it is affecting the number of hurricanes.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.