Fewer storms ahead in tropics this year? NOAA joins earlier predictions

In this Aug. 30, 2012 photo, residents evacuated their flooded neighborhood in LaPlace, La., as Hurricane Isaac staggered toward central Louisiana.

Repeat the mantra: It only takes one. One hurricane blasting the coast can make for a very bad year.

A below normal to near-normal year of hurricane activity was forecast Thursday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, joining a host of earlier academic and business computer modeling saying virtually the same thing. The NOAA forecast is considered a benchmark and the administration has improved its computing capability.

NOAA called for 8-11 storms, about half as many hurricanes and one or two major hurricanes.

The usual "good guys" are in play - cooler sea temperatures, strong high altitude winds that shear tropical cyclones and the anticipated emergence of El Nino, a Pacific Ocean warming trend that strengthens shear winds in the Atlantic.

But emergency officials repeated the mantra themselves Thursday as they stepped to the microphone to speak at the news conference.

"It only takes one hurricane or tropical storm making landfall to have disastrous impacts on our communities," said Joe Nimmich, FEMA associate administrator.

Maybe the most disturbing news of the season for the Lowcountry came earlier this month. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology study indicated that hurricanes are now reaching their peak intensity farther north or south of the equator.

The trend, the researchers noted, "seems consistent with a warming climate."

At the news conference Gerry Bell, NOAA's lead seasonal hurricane forecaster and other speakers noted that experimental hurricane tracking models have been more accurately predicting which storms in the Atlantic Basin would become hurricanes and a new "double the resolution" model predicted the 2013 New Jersey landfall of Hurricane Sandy seven days ahead of time, when the operating models had the storm headed out to sea.

NOAA researchers "have increasing confidence" in the new generation modeling, Bell said.

The hurricane season officially runs June 1 to November 30. But hurricanes have formed before and after those dates. The Cape Verde period in which powerful storms are most likely to threaten the Lowcountry runs from early August into October.

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