Hurricane experts calling for a below-average season

Published: Friday, June 1, 2012 at 11:25 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, June 1, 2012 at 11:25 a.m.

National hurricane experts are calling for a below-average hurricane season, which begins Friday, June 1, though officials warn that residents should not let their guards down based on the preliminary predictions.


Expert predictions for the 2012 hurricane season:

Colorado State University Tropical Meteorology Project
• The Atlantic will churn up 10 named storms
• Four hurricanes
• Two hurricanes will reach major status (winds higher than 110 mph)
• The total energy from all storms that form is expected to be about 25 percent down from what is considered average.

The Weather Channel
• Eleven named storms
• Six hurricanes
• Two major hurricanes (Category 3 or higher)

• Twelve named tropical storms
• Five named hurricanes
• Two major hurricanes.

• In 2011, seven hurricanes and an additional 13 tropical storms formed, one of which was not named because it was recorded as a tropical storm after a reanalysis.
• The long-term average (1950-2011) is 12 named storms per season, with seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes.
• The average for the current active era (1995-2011) is 15 named storms, eight hurricanes and four major hurricanes.
— Sources: Staff, Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Researchers at Colorado State University, which has issued annual hurricane forecasts for 29 years, believe the atmospheric and ocean signatures that drive hurricane formation are not as prominent this year.

Forescasters with the school’s Tropical Meteorology Project believe the 2012 hurricane season could be half as active as last year, when 19 named storms — seven of which hurricanes — were recorded.

Last year, the team predicted 17 named storms and nine hurricanes. The average number of named storms for the last three decades is 12, with 6.5 of those hurricanes, according to the team’s research.

Colorado State’s Philip Klotzbach and William Gray predicted that 2012 will feature 10 named storms, including four hurricanes, during the 2012 season, which ends Nov. 30.

This year’s below-average prediction makes National Weather Service officials nervous. That’s because they expect many people to let their guard down.

Steve Letro, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service in Jacksonville, said Colorado State’s forecasts are great tools when it predicts above-average activity, like from the mid-1990s through much of the 2000s.

“That raised the preparedness awareness,” said Letro.

He said numerous direct hits across the United States forced people to develop hurricane kits and buy supplies such as generators.

Marion County Emergency Management Director Capt. Chip Wildy said, like most every year, if just one hurricane passes over Marion, it would be a memorable hurricane season.

Take 1992. The first hurricane of the season did not hit until late August. And that was Andrew, one of the strongest storms to ever hit the United States.

“There may be only a few storms out there but what if it comes your way?” Wildy noted. “It only takes one.”

This year’s forecast calls for only four hurricanes, two of which rated a major hurricane — Category 3 and above.

This year’s forecast also calls for below-average number of days that such storms will be on the move. Officials predict that there will be 40 named storm, 16 hurricane, and 3 major hurricane days.

CSU’s experts say there is a 42 percent chance the U.S. East Coast will be struck by a major hurricane, which is below the 52 percent century average. The Florida Peninsula has a 24 percent chance, down from 31 percent.

There have been changes to hurricane preparedness procedures and scales. Officials say tape is no longer needed to protect windows, and they tweaked the major hurricane intensity scale in some categories by 1 mph.

On the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale, a Category 4 hurricane now has wind speeds between 130-156 mph, which in turn affected the wind scale for the other two major hurricane categories.

Category 3 is now 111-129 mph, while a Category 5 is 157 mph and above.

Meanwhile, Wildy said his office is currently tweaking its shelter plans after several rules were changed. He also said this will be the first year for a new computer system at the Emergency Operations Center.

The system will track needs — such as the need for more shelter cots and debris removal companies, for example — put into the system by different agencies. The computer will match needs with available services.

Joe Callahan can be reached at 867-4113 or at Follow him Twitter at JoeOcalaNews.

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