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Hurricane Expert Predicts Active Season

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RALEIGH — William Gray of Colorado StateUniversity is one of the most wellrespected hurricane experts in the world.Since 1984, he's used weather patterns to predict the number of stormseach hurricane season.

Statistics show he's pretty accurate. Gray has predicted the exactnumber of hurricanes four times, has missed the total by only one hurricanethree times and has been off the mark by two storms five times.

What is Gray's prediction for the 1997 Atlantic hurricane season?Eleven tropical storms that will produce sevennamed hurricanes; three of the five hurricanes will be intense.

``We're entering a new era in hurricanes,'' Gray said Friday,releasing a new forecast that supports his earlier predictions forabove-average hurricane activity.

``We're undoubtedly going to see more destructive hurricanes,maybe not this year, maybe next year,'' he told the Governor'sHurricane Conference in Tampa. ``In the next 10 to 20 years, we'regoing to see hurricane destruction like we've never before seen.''

On average, 9.3 tropical storms, 5.8 hurricanes and 2.1 majorhurricanes form each year. If Gray is right, this will be the thirdyear of above-average hurricane activity in the Atlantic region,which includes the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.

The Atlantic hurricane season begins June 1 and runs throughNovember.

He believes the new era in hurricanes will look much like theperiod from 1947 to 1969, when the United States was pounded 17times by powerful hurricanes. Those storms pummeled coastlines fromTexas to New York's Long Island, killing nearly 2,200 and causingbillions of dollars in damage.

Hurricane activity calmed down in 1970. Since then, only threemonster storms have hit the United States: Gloria, Hugo and Andrew.But that less-intense trend was reversed in the past two seasons,Gray noted.

In 1995, 19 tropical storms were recorded with 11 becominghurricanes. Last season, nine hurricanes formed from 13 tropicalstorms although most veered away from the U.S. coastline.

Gray predicts the hurricanes will become more destructive, notonly because the cyclones are becoming more intense, but alsobecause of the rapid buildup of people and property along thesoutheast coast.

His predictions are based on a number of global weatherconditions, including the El Nino effect, a warming of the Pacificwhose long-range effects include a decline in hurricanes in theSoutheast.

Gray said the pattern grew faster then he expected, but hedoubts it will slow hurricane activity this year because otherpatterns in the Atlantic Ocean are so ripe for high hurricaneactivity.

``We don't think this El Nino is going to progress muchstrongerand it may even weaken,'' he added.

-- From staff and wire reports