As the Atlantic hurricane season approaches its historical peak, U.S. hurricane forecasters are warning that ocean and atmospheric conditions are revving up to an unusually busy and dangerous 2010.
If anything, rapidly developing La Nina conditions — cooling sea surface temperatures across the tropical Pacific Ocean — have made the atmosphere over the Atlantic Ocean even more favorable for hurricane development.
"Everything is favorable for an active season," said Gerry Bell, lead hurricane season scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center. Bell predicted in May — before La Nina developed — that the this year's season was likely to be one of the most active and dangerous on record. At a news conference Thursday, he held firm to his May forecast.
Bell's August update calls for a high probability of 14 to 20 named storms in the Atlantic Basin, including eight to 12 hurricanes and four to six major hurricanes, with winds of at least 111 miles per hour. The government doesn't predict how many hurricanes would make landfall — a circumstance dictated by short-term weather conditions — but Bell emphasized that the active season raised the likelihood of hurricanes striking the U.S. coast in the Gulf of Mexico and the eastern seaboard.
Bell urged residents of hurricane-prone coastal regions not to get caught up in the numbers, because "it only takes one hurricane, if it strikes your area, to make a disaster. Know your risk, have a plan, and be prepared."
Forecasters are keeping a close watch on the eastern Atlantic, where atmospheric waves flowing westward from tropical Africa are the seeds of hurricane formation during the critical peak period of mid-August through October when most storms take shape. La Nina conditions in the Pacific have the effect of encouraging these waves to form tropical storms by introducing calm, favorable winds over the Atlantic.
This image, above, from the European Meteosat satellite captures a flurry of these tropical waves currently flowing off Africa.
Other forecasters at Tropical Storm Risk Inc., a private concern in London, and at Colorado State University issued similar updates reaffirming their warnings of an active, high-risk season through October.