- The Washington Times - Monday, May 22, 2006

Federal forecasters yesterday predicted that up to 10 hurricanes will form during the six-month Atlantic season that begins June 1, but they do not expect a repeat of the record-breaking onslaught of last year.

Conrad C. Lautenbacher, chief of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said, “It is statistically within reason that two to four hurricanes … could hit the Gulf Coast. It’s a troubling yet real possibility.”

NOAA predicted a total of 16 named storms, as many as 10 of which could reach hurricane strength, and that four to six of those would be major.

Last year, 28 tropical storms strengthened into 15 hurricanes, six more than NOAA forecast. Seven of those were considered major hurricanes, two more than NOAA predicted.

A hurricane is considered major when it reaches Category 3 strength on the five-level Saffir-Simpson scale, or when winds are recorded at least 111 mph.

“It’s not just all about the numbers,” said Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, where the NOAA released its predictions. “It just takes that one hurricane over your house to make for a bad year.

“But the research is telling us we are in an active period that may last 20 years, and that’s not good news. So the message is clear: We need to be prepared.”

Nine of the past 11 hurricane seasons have shown above-normal activity, but researchers say it is part of a pattern recorded since the 1850s. Scientists are debating whether global warming has increased the intensity, but not necessarily the number, of storms.

In New Orleans, Army Corps of Engineers officials and contractors are working around the clock to repair 170 miles of the 350-mile levee system that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina last year.

Corps spokesman Jim Taylor said yesterday that the work to restore the levee system to its condition before Katrina is about 90 percent complete and should be finished by mid-June.

He said new floodgates are being installed and that the system “will be more stronger and more resilient than the levee was before it failed.”

Portable pumps will be used to remove water from canals in case of a storm surge before the levee work is completed, Mr. Taylor said.

Despite the restoration, New Orleans residents will be required to leave if an evacuation is ordered.

“Our infrastructure is battered,” said Jeff Smith, acting director of the Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

In Mississippi, the recovery from Katrina also continues.

“For so long, we lived in the shadow of Hurricane Camille [in 1969], and we thought that was as bad as it gets. Now we know it can get worse, and as bad as Katrina was, it can be worse,” said Robert Latham, executive director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.

“It won’t take more than a Category 3 to damage us again,” Mr. Latham said.

He estimated that another major hurricane would force 100,000 residents living in 35,000 travel trailers to leave the state.

Forecasters at Colorado State University and AccuWeather have predicted between three and five major Atlantic hurricanes this season.

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