Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Will This Be A Busy Hurricane Season?

A number of hurricane forecasters have put out their predictions for 2009's hurricane season, which officially started yesterday. The consensus seems to be that it will be an average to maybe even below average year for hurricanes.

For example, the intrepid Colorado State forecast team of Dr. Phil Klotzbach and Dr. William Gray released an updated prognostication predicting this will be a near average year, with 11 named storms, 5 hurricanes and 2 intense hurricanes. They, and other forecasters, have been lowering their forecasts as evidence accumulates of a developing El Nino event in the Pacific, which typically decreases Atlantic hurricane activity.

Dr. Jeff Masters, whose Wunderblog is must reading for any hurricane aficianados, notes not only the potential El Nino, but lower sea surface temperatures than in more recent years (higher sea surface temps make for a more favorable hurricane environment). Masters hasn't made an overall prediction, but at least for June--not a big hurricane month--he thinks the environment is not particularly favorable.

Bear in mind, however, that as a group the hurricane forecasters have a horrible record in recent years, underestimating the number in big years, such as 2005, while overestimating in other years. You'd be better off tossing a coin than relying on them.

In any event, in some ways it has ALREADY been an interesting and active hurricane season. A week or so ago, a large low pressure system formed off the Florida coast and almost became a tropical depression before going ashore and dumping anywhere from 5-25 inches of rain on the heretofore drought-stricken state. That same system went into the Gulf of Mexico, again nearly formed a tropical depression, then came ashore in Louisiana and eventually dumped a lot more rain across the Southeast. (The Southeast had been suffering significant periods of widespread drought over the past two years, but now is almost entirely drought free due to a rainy spring.)

Then, later last week, a tropical depression did form off the coast of North Carolina. This was quite far north for a storm like this so early in the season. That particular depression never threatened the U.S. coast, as it drifted eastward in the Atlantic. It's remnants, however, may have contributed to the downing of the Air France jet that disappeared so mysteriously this week.

Right now, things are quiet in the tropical Atlantic, but if amateur hurricane watchers have learned anything in recent years it's that surprises can and do occur with regularity.

While we're on hurricanes, a syndicated article appeared in newspapers on Sunday suggesting that New York City might be considering the development of multi-billion dollar hurricane barriers to protect the Big Apple from a major hurricane. (See "Hurricane Barriers Suggested To Keep Sea Out of NYC.")

As we've noted, the recently published book Landstrike sketches out in remarkably realistic detail the devastating effect a major hurricane could have on New York City and its environs, with damages in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Those barriers are something worth seriously thinking about.

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