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Forecaster predicts stronger hurricanes for decades

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FORT COLLINS, COLO. (AP) — Hurricane forecaster William Gray predicts El Nino has had its ``last hurrah for five or 10 years'' but the East Coast will see more and stronger hurricanes for decades.

``We've been in a great downturn in storms from the late '60s through 1994. We feel that the Atlantic temperature picture has changed and is typical of patterns in previous periods when we've had a lot more tropical storms,'' Gray said.

The Colorado State University scientist said this trend is backed up by salinity data and broad temperature data. ``I just feel this is going to take place. And it is quite an ominous picture in that we have had such a buildup of people and property on the (East) coast. We'll see more damage than we've ever seen,'' Gray said.

``I think we've changed over (with colder ocean temperatures) and this most intense El Nino was the last hurrah for at least five or 10 years,'' he said.

Gray, in a forecast released Friday, said more hurricanes were reported during the period from 1995 through 1997 than in any other three-year period, despite a respite induced last year by the strongest-ever El Nino.

During the three years, there were 39 named storms, 23 hurricanes (12 of intense strength) and 107 hurricane days.

This follows what Gray called ``a remarkable downturn'' in storm activity from 1970 to 1994.

Gray said this summer and fall, hurricane activity will remain average for the 50-year period during which records have been kept, but will be up from last year.

Gray's forecast said 10 tropical storms are expected through Nov. 6. Six are likely to evolve into hurricanes and two of those will be intense, with winds in excess of 111 mph.

The Atlantic Basin typically has 9.3 tropical storms each year with 5.8 of them becoming hurricanes and 2.1 intense hurricanes.

``The basis of our forecast is that the El Nino, the strongest one we've ever had by nearly a factor of two, is fading out fast and should be dissipated by the start of the active part of the hurricane season in mid-August,'' Gray said. ``We may even have some slightly cool water in the eastern equatorial Pacific by the height of the hurricane season in September. So we don't think El Nino will be a significant inhibiting factor this year.''

In Friday's update of this year's forecast, Gray and his colleagues said El Nino appears to have suppressed hurricane activity last year.

``We think we'll see a slightly above-average number of named storms, slightly above average for major storms. So I would characterize it as an average season in terms of the last 48 years,'' he said.

Gray and other researchers base their predictions on temperature and pressure readings in West Africa, the Caribbean and Singapore.

Gray's forecast does not predict which of the storms will strike land, and applies only to the Atlantic Basin, the area encompassing the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico.

(Copyright 1998 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) APTV-06-05-98 1012EDT

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