WASHINGTON – With peak hurricane season approaching, government weather forecasters slightly lowered their forecast Tuesday for the number of tropical storms and hurricanes expected to form in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea this year.
The 2006 Atlantic hurricane season won’t be as extreme as last year, but conditions remain in place for above average storm activity, they said.
Forecasters now expect 12 to 15 named storms including seven to nine hurricanes. Of those hurricanes, three to four could become intense storms of at least Category 3.
“This does not mean we’re off the hook,” said Conrad Lautenbacher, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The extreme sea surface temperatures and favorable wind conditions that fueled the record-setting 2005 storm season aren’t present to the same extent this year, said Gerry Bell, the top hurricane forecaster at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.
The two spoke at a Washington news conference to announce the update to the National Hurricane Center’s closely watched seasonal forecast.
Max Mayfield, the center’s well-known director, participated in the conference via video link and stressed the importance of personal preparation in the face of an oncoming hurricane.
“I’m deeply concerned about this lack of preparedness,” Mayfield said, citing a recent poll that found 60 percent of coastal residents had no family disaster plan.
By this time last year, there had been two named hurricanes and seven tropical storms, according to National Hurricane Center archive reports.
But so far this year, there have been just three tropical storms.
“Although the season has been relatively quiet so far, we are still expecting an active Atlantic hurricane season,” Bell said.
In May, federal forecasters said the 2006 north Atlantic hurricane season would be “very active,” with 13 to 16 named storms. Of those, eight to 10 were expected to blossom into hurricanes with four to six becoming intense hurricanes of Category 3 strength or higher.
A Category 3 hurricane has sustained winds of 111 mph or greater.
Last year, the north Atlantic hurricane season produced a record 28 named storms that included 15 hurricanes. Seven of those hurricanes topped the Category 3 stage and four of those, a record, hit the U.S., including Katrina.
The north Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 through Nov. 30.