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Tuesday, May 4

2010 hurricane season may rival some of the worst in history for USA

"While El Niño fades, hot spots in the Atlantic set a monthly record in March, breaking a mark set in 1969, and tied the high set in June 2005 ... Hurricanes draw on warm water to form and gain strength."

The looming threat of this hurricane season needs to be seen against severe flood and tornado damage during the past week across three southern U.S. states, the historic disaster bearing down on coastal states affected by the Gulf oil spill, and the vulnerability of U.S. gas and oil facilities perched in coastal Gulf regions:
May 4 (Bloomberg) -- The 2010 Atlantic hurricane season may rival some of the worst in history as meteorological conditions mirror 2005, the record-breaking year that spawned [Rita and] New Orleans - wrecking Katrina, forecasters say.

The El Niño warming in the Pacific is fading and rain is keeping dust down in Africa, cutting off two phenomena that help retard Atlantic hurricane formation.

Perhaps most significantly, sea temperatures from the Cape Verde Islands to the Caribbean, where the storms usually develop, are above normal and reaching records in some areas.

“We have only seen that in three previous seasons, 2005, 1958 and 1969, and all three of those years had five major hurricanes,” said Jeff Masters, [chief meteorologist and] co-founder of Weather Underground Inc. "I am definitely thinking that this is going to be a severe hurricane season."

With less than a month to go before the official June 1 start of the season, predictions are for 14 to 18 named storms. In an average year, there are 11 named storms with winds of at least 39 mph (62 kph), six of them reaching the 74-mph threshold for hurricanes and two growing into major storms with winds of 111 mph or more, the National Hurricane Center says. [...] As the number of hurricanes rises, so do the chances of one striking the oil-rich Gulf of Mexico or Florida’s agricultural areas.

Gulf Threat

The Gulf is home to about 27 percent of U.S. oil and 15 percent of U.S. natural gas production, the U.S. Department of Energy says. It also has seven of the 10 busiest U.S. ports, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. Florida is the second- largest producer of oranges after Brazil.

Energy disruptions could occur if 2010 produces a repeat of 2008, when hurricanes Gustav and Ike slammed into the Gulf Coast about a week apart, said Andy Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates, a Houston-based consulting company.

“The good news going into hurricane season is that we have significant amounts of inventories of gasoline and distillate fuels,” he said.
For readers who've been wondering, as I have, whether the oil slick from the BP spill might be a blessing in disguise, this Q&A today from the Market Blog puts a damper on that wild hope:
There is new time pressure on the oil clean-up: Hurricane season is around the corner. Nancy Marshall Genzer has more:

NMG: Hurricane season starts June 1. Hurricanes tend to wait until July or August, but there's no guarantee the blown-out oil well a mile under the Gulf will be shut off by then. So what happens when oil and hurricane force winds mix?

Jeff Masters: It's like when you shake up a bottle of vinegar and oil. I mean the oil will mix down in the water for a while, and might be carried inland as well at a reduced concentration because it's going to be well-mixed.

... Masters is trying to be optimistic. He sees our glass of oil and water as half full. There's a theory that water coated with oil could actually help slow down hurricanes. Oily water evaporates slowly. Hurricanes are powered by evaporation.

Kerry Emanuel teaches atmospheric science at MIT. He says the theory holds if the ocean is calm, with low winds.

Kerry Emanuel: But at high wind speeds, whatever you put on the surface tends to get disbursed, and that's why we don't really believe that an oil slick would have much effect on a hurricane.

Plus, huge waves churned up by the hurricane would push the oily water farther inland around the Gulf. But can we at least try to minimize the impact of oil and hurricane force winds? Jeff Masters says no.

JM: All you can do really is sit back and watch it happen. I don't think you can really plan for it.
To return to the Bloomberg report:
[...] Joe Bastardi, chief hurricane forecaster at AccuWeather in State College, Pennsylvania, said he doesn’t think the Atlantic can produce 28 storms this year, as it did in 2005, the most active year on record.

“I have 2005 in the mix” of years to compare to 2010, Bastardi said. “But if I had to choose, I would choose 1998 over 2005.”

In 1998, 14 named storms formed, 11 of which turned into hurricanes, according to Weather Underground’s website. There were 15 hurricanes in 2005.

AccuWeather’s Call

AccuWeather currently calls for 16 to 18 storms to form. Bastardi predicts the current El Niño will change into a La Niño, cooling the Pacific in time to influence the hurricane season, which runs through Nov. 30.

While El Niño fades, hot spots in the Atlantic set a monthly record in March, breaking a mark set in 1969, and tied the high set in June 2005, Masters said. Hurricanes draw on warm water to form and gain strength.

Colorado State University researchers William Gray and Phil Klotzbach chose 1958, 1966, 1969, 1998 and 2005 as the years that shared the most similarities with 2010.

In 1958, 10 storms, including five major hurricanes, formed after an El Niño faded.

In 1969, Hurricane Camille crashed into the U.S. Gulf Coast with winds in excess of 200 miles per hour. The exact strength is unknown because the storm destroyed all the wind measurement devices. It killed 256 people and caused $1.4 billion in damage.

East at Risk

The U.S. coast from North Carolina to Maine has a raised risk of being hit by a hurricane this year, said Todd Crawford, chief meteorologist for Andover, Massachusetts-based WSI Inc.

The Northeast usually has about a 25 percent chance of a hurricane strike, Crawford said. This year, it has a 48 percent chance, close to the 50 percent chance the Gulf of Mexico and Florida have every year, he said.

“We’re not too bullish on the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast,” said Jim Rouiller, a senior energy meteorologist at Planalytics Inc. in Berwyn, Pennsylvania. “We’re liking the track threatening Florida and the eastern Gulf, followed by the entire Gulf and the third emphasis would be on the Carolinas.”

Rouiller said he believes a trough will develop along the U.S. East Coast from the mid-Atlantic states through New England, shielding the region. That may mean more risk for the Canadian Maritime provinces, which have some oil platforms and refineries.

The U.S. Climate Prediction Center will issue its forecast on May 20.

Get Ready

Editors: Charlotte Porter, Dan Stets
To contact the reporter on this story: Brian K. Sullivan in Boston at bsullivan10@bloomberg.net

I notice that a new cloud of ash has burgeoned up and out from Iceland. Ireland's airports in the west are closed.

Given that Iceland is so very far from the prevailing winds which form our weather disasters, i wonder if the current conditions (and the new eruptions expected) will eventually drift high enough to be carried far enough south to affect the coast of Africa, etc.

IIRC, ash has a cooling effect.
Dymphna -- Your comments have inspired a Pundita post, which I hope to publish sometime on Saturday; I'll notify you when it's ready. :-)
D - Just published new post and quote your comments.
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