Insurance News

Hurricane season begins with tropical wave

Posted on: June 3, 2009

MIAMI, June 1 (UPI) — The 2009 Atlantic hurricane season began Monday with a tropical wave reported over the Caribbean Sea and one tropical depression already spent.

The season that runs through Nov. 30 is forecast to be “near-normal” or average by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and various academics.

NOAA predicts a 70 percent chance of nine to14 named storms, of which four to seven could become hurricanes. Of those, as many as three could be major, or above a Category 3 on the 5-point Saffir-Simpson scale.

An average season has 11 named storms, including six hurricanes, with two reaching major status, NOAA statistics show. Last year, there were 16 named storms, eight of which became hurricanes and five of them major. Five of the storms traveled north and tailed out in Canada’s eastern provinces.

The season’s first tropical depression formed Thursday off the coast of North Carolina, but took a northeastern turn back to sea and dissipated during the weekend.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami reported Saturday a tropical wave had formed off the coast of Africa, where the majority of tropical storm systems originate. Hot dry air from the Sahara desert moves over the eastern Atlantic Ocean and upward, moisture-driven, convective winds slowly develop.

Tropical waves can develop into depressions, then into storms and eventually hurricanes when sustained wind speeds surpass 74 mph. Storms are assigned names once they reach wind speeds of 39 mph. The first three names of the new season are Ana, Bill and Claudette.

John Nielsen-Gammon, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University in College Station, said storms in the Gulf of Mexico pose a particular threat.

“They tend to form quickly, sometimes amazingly fast,” he said in a release. “In 2007, Humberto formed in the gulf and it went from a tropical depression to a hurricane in less than 24 hours.”

Dr. Lian Xie, professor of marine, earth and atmospheric sciences, and colleagues at North Carolina State University, issued a forecast similar to NOAA’s. They predicted there would be 11 to 14 named storms, of which six to eight could be expected to become hurricanes.

The hurricane forecast team at Colorado State University predicted 12 named storms, with six forecast to reach hurricanes status, including two likely to be major.

In 2005, a record 28 named storms formed, with 15 becoming hurricanes. Two — Katrina and Rita — caused catastrophic damage along the southern U.S. Gulf Coast and killed more than 2,200 people.

Meanwhile, meteorologist Jeff Masters, co-founder of the Weather Underground Web site, said during the weekend there was a “very real possibility an El Nino event in the Pacific Ocean could occur during the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season” in August through October.

The El Nino event occurs when sea surface temperatures in the eastern Pacific rise, which Masters said has been happening for several months.

“This is important, since the number and intensity of Atlantic tropical storms and hurricanes is usually reduced during an El Nino year, thanks to the increased wind shear such events bring,” he said.

© 2009 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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