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Scientists predict busy hurricane season

A team of Colorado State University meteorologists predicts above-average hurricane activity in 2013.

The annual forecast issued Wednesday by Philip Klotzbach and William Gray calls for 18 named storms and nine hurricanes in the Atlantic and Caribbean basin this year. That compares to averages of 12 named storms and 6.5 hurricanes.

Their prediction is similar to that of long-range specialist Joe Bastardi of the private meteorology firm WeatherBell, who predicted 16 named storms and 12 hurricanes.

The two forecasts also call for higher-than-average risk of landfall in the Carolinas.

Klotzbach and Gray said warm water in the tropical Atlantic and little chance of an El Niño condition in the Pacific Ocean are key reasons for their prediction. They say warm Atlantic water tends to lead to weak trade winds and relatively low pressure at the surface. Both conditions are conducive to tropical storm formation.

Bastardi said those conditions also are likely to breed more of the long-lived Cape Verde hurricanes, which form in the eastern Atlantic and strengthen as they approach the Caribbean and North America.

These predictions are in advance of the annual forecast by the National Hurricane Center, which comes in late May. The hurricane season in the Atlantic basin is June 1-Nov. 30, with the most activity from mid-August into early October.

In their forecast, Klotzbach and Gray said conditions this year are similar to those in five years in the past century – 1915, 1952, 1966, 1996 and 2004. That is an ominous prediction for the Carolinas.

The 1996 season included Hurricane Fran, which caused devastating floods across Eastern North Carolina.

In 2004, six storms affected the Carolinas – Alex, Bonnie, Frances, Gaston, Ivan and Jeanne. Hurricanes Frances, Ivan and Jeanne made landfall in Florida, then curved northward and dumped very heavy rain in the Carolinas mountains. The remnants of Frances also were responsible for a record-setting tornado outbreak for South Carolina in September 2004, plus a twister that threatened Lake Wylie Elementary School in southwest Mecklenburg County.

Klotzbach cautioned people in hurricane-prone areas not to focus on the number of predicted storms.

Klotzbach and Gray are coming off a not-so-stellar performance with their predictions in 2012. They forecasted 10 named storms (19 developed) and four hurricanes (there were 10). Those predictions were wrecked, in part, because an El Niño condition (cool eastern Pacific Ocean waters) never developed as expected. El Niño conditions send a west-to-east wind across the southern United States, disrupting the circulation in tropical weather systems.

Little or no El Niño activity is expected again this summer and fall, the Colorado State team says.

Lyttle: 704-358-6107
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