- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 21, 2009

NOAA forecasters said Thursday they expect a typical Atlantic hurricane season but global weather patterns such as West Africa rainfall have made predictions especially difficult this year.

The federal agency predicts nine to 14 named storms this season, which runs from June to November. Four to seven could become hurricanes and as many as three could become major hurricanes.

An average season has 11 named storms, including six hurricanes with two developing into major ones.

Agency forecasters said the earth remains in an era of high weather activity that started in 1995 and the situation is “imposing a greater uncertainty” on predictions.

They also said the hurricane season could become worse if such factors as more rain in West Africa and warmer Atlantic waters persist. And fewer hurricanes will be spawned if El Nino develops in the Pacific this summer or if ocean temperatures in the tropical Atlantic remain cooler than normal.

The first named tropical storm this season will be Ana. Tropical systems become storms when sustained winds reach 39 mph, and storms become hurricanes when winds reach 74 mph. Major hurricanes are those with wind speeds of 111 mph.

The season follows a 2008 season that ranks among the most active since 1944 — when airplanes started flying into tropical storms and hurricanes to record information.

The season had 16 named storms and five major hurricanes. A record six consecutive tropical cyclones — Dolly, Edouard, Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike — hit the U.S. mainland. And a record three major hurricanes — Gustav, Ike and Paloma — struck Cuba.

Federal officials said the predictions and NOAA tracking storms become more important each year as more residents move to the Atlantic coastal region.

“Today, more than 35 million Americans live in regions most threatened by Atlantic hurricanes,” Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said. “Timely and accurate warnings of severe weather help save lives and property. Public awareness and public preparedness are the best defenses against a hurricane.”

Jane Lubchenco, a NOAA administrator and Commerce Department under secretary for oceans and atmosphere, said the Obama administration support the agency’s request for an additional $13 million in next years budget to improve hurricane forecasting and tracking.

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