- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 22, 2001

Forecasters say Washington area residents should remain vigilant against severe storms, winds and floods this year, despite the predictions of government weather analysts who call for an average hurricane season along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.
"Its been a while since weve taken a major hit," said Sterling, Va.-based National Weather Service meteorologist Barbara Watson. "Statistically speaking, you could say this area is overdue."
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) yesterday announced its forecast for the 2001 hurricane season, which officially starts June 1 and ends Nov. 30. Five to seven hurricanes and eight to 11 tropical storms likely will threaten the Atlantic Coast — fewer than in the past three years. Seasons with normal hurricane activity average one to two land-falling hurricanes in the United States and one in the Caribbean.
Forecasters have no way to predict if a hurricane will reach the District but say it is unlikely, historically speaking. The last hurricane to hit the metropolitan region was in 1954, when Hurricane Hazel made its way up the coast from landfall in Wilmington, N.C. Washington National Airport recorded winds of 76 mph with a peak gust of 98 mph. Tropical storms reach the District about once every four or five years.
Some of the most severe storm damage to the Washington metropolitan area has come from remnants of hurricanes during what are considered periods of light or average hurricane activity.
According to NOAA, 1970 to 1994 was considered a "relatively quiet" period, yet rains in the wake of Hurricane Agnes in 1972 swelled the Potomac 15 1/2 feet, nearly topping the citys 16-foot flood walls. Hurricane Agnes was one of three hurricanes that year.
In 1996, storms that followed one of nine hurricanes, Hurricane Fran, dropped 20 inches of rain on the area and raised the Potomac almost 14 feet.
Hurricane David was one of five hurricanes in 1979 but spawned 34 tornadoes in the metropolitan area.
Conversely, specialists say, hurricane activity has been more pronounced in the last three years. But when the most serious threat, Category 4 Hurricane Floyd, reached the area as a tropical storm in 1999, it delivered only a glancing blow to the Western Shore counties along the Chesapeake Bay.
Ms. Watson said that along with the storms high winds, extreme rain, tidal surges and tornadoes, inland flash flooding poses the greatest danger to the area.
"Historically speaking, we can get a foot of rain overnight from these tropical-type storms," she said, adding it usually takes about two days for flash floodwaters to make their way to the Potomac.
Last year, the Atlantic produced 14 tropical storms, with sustained surface winds reaching between 39 mph and 73 mph. Eight reached hurricane strength, with winds greater than 74 mph. Officials say the lower numbers predicted for this season are attributable to the absence of such influences as the El Nino and La Nina phenomena, in which unusual warming or cooling of the tropical Pacific can affect the weather worldwide.
The names chosen for tropical storms and hurricanes this year include Allison, Barry, Chantal, Dean, Eric, Felix, Gabrielle, Humberto, Iris and Jerry.
NOAA says it will issue an updated hurricane outlook in August, the peak month for storm activity.


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