Below-average hurricane season forecast

There’s good news in the weather forecast this summer for Anna Maria Island and Florida’s coastal areas.

Scientists at Colorado State University have just released their annual predictions for the number of tropical storms that will form in the Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico this summer and are expecting a below average hurricane season — officially June 1 to Nov. 30.

CSU scientists predicted only 10 named storms would form in the tropics this season, compared to the seasonal average of 11 named storms.

Of the 10 storms, only four will become hurricanes, and just two of those will be considered major — Category III or higher — hurricanes.

Scientist and weather forecaster Bill Gray of CSU said the forecast is based upon several factors, including the appearance of El Nino in the eastern Pacific this summer.

El Nino, a weather pattern that creates high-level winds moving from west to east, will produce a strong wind shear that is expected to keep most tropical storms in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico from becoming major hurricanes, Gray said.

Additionally, the waters of the tropical Atlantic are much cooler this year than in previous years. Cool water slows development of hurricanes, Gray said.

But Dan Noah of the National Weather Service in Ruskin advised people not to put too much faith in forecasts.

“In 1992, we only had seven storms, but one of them was Hurricane Andrew,” he said.

Andrew caused an estimated $43.9 billion worth of property damage, primarily in the Miami area, and is the costliest storm in U.S. history, Noah said.

“It only takes one storm to have a major hurricane,” he said.

The official NWS hurricane forecast for 2012 will be published the last week of May, Noah said.

Noah noted the NWS has revised the Saffir-Simpson scale used to measure the strength of hurricanes by the central wind speed.

The new hurricane ratings are:

• Category I — 74-95 mph sustained winds at the center.

• Category II — 96-110 mph at the center.

• Category III — 111-129 mph at the center.

• Category IV — 130-156 mph at the center.

• Category V — 157-plus mph at the center.

Noah said coastal residents such as those on Anna Maria Island should take all the usual precautions before hurricane season begins, even with a below-average prediction.

The most important precaution for any coastal resident is to know the evacuation route if authorities call for the Island to be evacuated, and know where they are going when they do evacuate, he said. Noah also suggested residents have a portable radio and plenty of batteries.

The most active year for Atlantic hurricanes since the federal government began keeping records in 1851 was 2005, when 28 named storms developed. None struck Anna Maria Island directly, but several, including Hurricane Katrina, passed about 100-150 miles away and caused some flooding and considerable beach erosion.

For a full compliment of hurricane information, see The Islander’s May 30 Storm-Ready special section.

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