- The Washington Times - Monday, May 15, 2006

The Carolinas are facing the biggest hurricane threat and New Orleans is not likely to get hit by another major storm this year, AccuWeather.com predicted yesterday, two weeks before the six-month hurricane season begins.

“This is not to say that hard-hit New Orleans has nothing to worry about,” said Ken Reeves, AccuWeather’s director of forecast operations.

“Because the city’s defenses have been so compromised by Hurricane Katrina, even a glancing blow from a hurricane elsewhere could spell trouble for the city.”

AccuWeather predicts five hurricanes and one tropical storm will make landfall this Atlantic hurricane season, a more conservative outlook than the nine-hurricane prediction issued last month by the Atmospheric Science Department at Colorado State University.

The Colorado school said five hurricanes will reach a strength of Category 3 or higher on the five-level Saffir-Simpson scale, meaning winds will exceed 111 mph. AccuWeather predicts three major hurricanes.

Forecasters say the upcoming hurricane season will be more active than normal, but will produce fewer storms than last year.

Frank Lepore, spokesman for the National Hurricane Center in Miami, says a decade-long trend of an increased incidence of storms will continue.

“There are more storms out there increasing the possibility that more will make landfall. That’s what happened last year,” he said.

Coastal dwellers are paying more attention to the forecasts because of the extraordinary destructiveness of the seven major hurricanes last year, Mr. Lepore said.

“Usually in the years when numbers are low, the opposite effect takes place and they kick back and put their feet up on the railing and think there’s nothing to worry about,” he said.

“There is a Greek tragic element to that,” said Mr. Lepore, pointing to the low number of storms in 1992, but “the first storm out of the gate … is Andrew on August 24, which caused $30 billion in damages in today’s dollars.”

When maximum sustained surface winds reach 39 mph, the cyclonic system of low pressure becomes a tropical storm and is assigned a name. Colorado State University forecasters predict 17 tropical storms for the season. The storm becomes a Category 1 hurricane when winds reach 74 mph.

“We are not predicting as active a season as occurred last year when we had 27 named storms, 15 hurricanes and seven major hurricanes,” said Philip Klotzbach, the lead author of the forecast.

An average season has 10 named storms, fewer than six hurricanes and two major hurricanes. The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 through Nov. 30.

The probability of a Category 3 or stronger hurricane making landfall along the East Coast this year is 64 percent, Mr. Klotzbach said.

In September 2003, parts of the Washington area were left without power for days after Isabel swept into the Chesapeake Bay. Mr. Klotzbach said “it is impossible to say months in advance” whether the region will have a repeat this year, but that the odds are small.

Federal forecasters will announce their predictions Monday at the National Hurricane Center.

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