updated 5/16/2007 4:46:39 PM ET 2007-05-16T20:46:39

An analysis of weather patterns over the past century indicates that increased storm activity over the last five years should continue for the next 20, a top hurricane forecaster said.

SUCH STORMS are expected to cause damage five to 10 times worse than ever before in the Gulf and Atlantic Coast states, said Bill Gray, who spoke Friday on the final day of the National Hurricane Conference.

The next 15 to 20 years should resemble a stretch of hurricane bombardment from the late 1920s through the 1940s, when relatively high salt content in the Atlantic altered the circulation of ocean currents in a way that pushed up the average water temperature. Hurricanes draw their strength from warm water.

The trend is cyclical, and has nothing to do with pollution blamed for global warming, Gray said.

“There’s tremendous ignorance about how these storms go,” he said. “We need to learn about this, expect it to happen and adapt our infrastructure.”

One of the main difference between now and the first half of the 20th century is that more people now live in harm’s way, Gray said. According to U.S. Census figures, the population in Gulf and Atlantic coast states from Texas to Virginia rose from a little more than 24 million in 1930 to about 64 million in 1990.

Gray, a professor of meteorology at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo., is widely viewed as the nation’s top hurricane forecaster.

In 1999, he predicted 14 named storms, nine of which would become hurricanes, and four of which would be classified as major, meaning they pack sustained winds of 110 miles per hour. As it turned out, there were 12 named storms, eight of which became hurricanes, with five of them major.

For 2000, Gray has predicted 11 named storms including seven hurricanes, three of them major.

The National Hurricane Conference brings together forecasters, emergency services officials and insurers from across the nation and beyond to discuss advancements in hurricane prediction and response.

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