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‘Near-normal’ hurricane season expected

An active tropical storm and hurricane season may be just around the meteorological corner. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is based in Miami, is calling for a “near-normal” hurricane season.

The 2012 Atlantic hurricane season began on Friday, though there were already two named storms before that. The average since 1981 is 12 named storms with six becoming hurricanes during a season, which ends Nov. 30.

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center forecasts a 70 percent chance of nine to 15 named storms, which will have winds of 39 miles per hour or higher. Four to eight of them have the potential to become hurricanes with winds of 74 miles per hour or higher. One to three of those hurricanes are projected to be Category 3 or higher.

The past two years have tied for the third most active Atlantic hurricane seasons with 19 named storms each. Also in third place are 1887 and 1996. The record is 28 named storms, set in 2005 – Hurricane Katrina among them.

In 2011, there were seven hurricanes, with four Category 3 or higher. The only hurricane to hit the U.S. was Irene, which caused significant damage along the East Coast. Tropical Storm Lee led to record rainfall in the Northeast, a region that was already severely affected by Irene. Both storms combined caused $20 billion in damage.

In 2010, there were 12 hurricanes with five reaching Category 3 or higher.

Ocean temperatures off the coast of Africa, where many tropical storms develop, are near normal. Readings are slightly above average in the Gulf of Mexico. The combination of the warmer waters and not having an El Niño, the warmer than normal sea-surface temperature event along the equatorial regions, will likely lead to another active tropical storm and hurricane season. During El Niño years, there are often fewer hurricanes formed as the wind shearing effects increase because of changes in upper-level wind flow patterns.

For the 2012 season, I see about 15 to 19 named storms with seven to nine of them becoming hurricanes. Four or five of these potentially deadly storms are expected to become major hurricanes, reaching at least a Category 3 status. Colorado State University, also known for its hurricane predictions, is expecting 13 named storms, five hurricanes, two of which will be major.

Contact Randy Mann at wxmann.