Mark Malsick jokes that his summer vacation plans are shot.
That's because the severe weather liaison for the S.C. Climate Office doesn't like how the hurricane season is shaping up.
And neither does anyone else.
El Nino has evaporated. That's a warming trend in Pacific tropical waters which created high- altitude winds shearing hurricanes in this hemisphere the past few years. Meanwhile, the tropical Atlantic is warmer than it was in 2005, the record-breaking year with a record 27 named storms including the devastating hurricane Katrina. And hot seas make for mean storms.
Even the Saharan dust storms that stifle tropical storms aren't blowing up.
The National Hurricane Center on Thursday unleashed an ominous 2010 season forecast -- 23 named tropical storms, including eight to 14 hurricanes and as many as seven major hurricanes, or hurricanes with winds stronger than 111 mph. That's powerful enough to snap apart trees, tear the roofs off frame-built houses and cut off water or electricity for days if not weeks.
It's what forecasters call a hyperactive season, said Stacy Stewart, the center's senior hurricane specialist.
On top of that, Lian Xie, the lead researcher in a North Carolina State University team that has developed an uncannily sharp forecasting computer model, says conditions this year suggest there's an 80 percent chance of a storm making landfall between North Carolina and Florida, and a 70 percent chance of a hurricane making landfall. His overall forecast, issued in April, almost mirrors the hurricane center forecast.
"We predict a very active season," he said Thursday.
Meteorologists for AccuWeather.com, a private forecasting company, and Phil Klotzbach, the lead researcher for hurricane guru Bill Gray's fabled team at Colorado State University, also call for a bad season.
The official "season" opens Tuesday. The heart of the season for the Lowcountry is August-September. But the storm that blew through earlier this week very nearly became the first tropical cyclone of the year. So the word is simple: Get ready. Put up emergency supplies and medicines, work out emergency contacts with family members, have a place to go or evacuate to a shelter.
Remember the mantra of emergency professionals: The numbers don't matter. One storm striking makes a very bad year.
The silver lining in this dark cloud is its uncertainty. It's too soon to say whether the steering currents will drive hurricanes either into the Caribbean Sea or up into the North Atlantic. Forecasters won't have a good read on that until July, Stewart said.
"What the latest predictions do not say is that the North Atlantic, Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico are very, very large areas. With the current science where it is, equating a busy hurricane season to a likely or not-likely South Carolina landfall is at best sketchy," Malsick said.
The year Hurricane Hugo wreaked havoc on the Lowcountry, 1989, was just a slightly above average season when compared to the historic 2004 and 2005 seasons, he said. "However, given the prospect of a higher number of storms, it is much easier to plan and prepare now for a hurricane that could take aim at South Carolina than to start preparing after the call for mandatory coastal evacuation is given."
Reach Bo Petersen at email@example.com or 937-5744.