BOSTON -- The 2010 Atlantic hurricane season may rival some of the worst in history as meteorological conditions mirror 2005, the record-breaking year that spawned Katrina, forecasters say.
The El Nino 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, co-founder of Weather Underground. "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, 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.
Last year's nine named storms were the fewest since 1997. Three became hurricanes and none made landfall in the United States. As the number of hurricanes rises, so do the chances of one striking the oil-rich Gulf of Mexico or Florida's agricultural areas.
The Gulf is home to about 27 percent of U.S. oil and 15 percent of U.S. natural gas production, the Energy Department says. It also has seven of the 10 busiest U.S. ports, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. 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.