Bigger Threat of Hurricanes for U.S. East Coast, Weather Firm Says

The East Coast from North Carolina to Maine, including the New York area, will face almost twice the usual risk from hurricanes this season, WSI Corp. said in its latest Atlantic storm forecast.

The Andover, Massachusetts-based weather software maker is also predicting 16 named storms, with winds of 39 miles (63 kilometers) per hour or more, will form, making 2010 a more active year than average.

“Our model suggests that the threat to the Northeast coast this season is on par with that in Florida and the Gulf coastal states,” WSI’s chief meteorologist, Todd Crawford, said in the forecast released today.

The weather pattern that brought record-breaking snow to Washington and New York City and has been pushing ash from Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull’s volcano southeastward across Europe will still be in place this summer and may drag storms into the U.S. Northeast, Crawford said by telephone.

“This pattern is still around,” Crawford said.

Usually, the Northeast has about a 25 percent chance of being hit by a hurricane, Crawford said. This year, it has a 48 percent chance, close to the 50 percent chance the Gulf of Mexico and Florida have every year, he said.

The Gulf is home to about 27 percent of U.S. oil and 15 percent of U.S. natural gas production, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Florida is the second-largest producer of oranges after Brazil.

Seas Running Hot

Sea-surface temperatures in the part of the Atlantic where storms form are currently running 2 degrees Celsius above normal, which is higher than the record set in 2005 when an unprecedented 28 storms formed, including Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans.

“It is a huge amount of added energy for storms to develop,” Crawford said in the interview. “What we’re seeing is off the scale.”

Crawford said he doesn’t believe this year will reach 2005’s record-breaking number of storms, although it could rival 2008, when 16 storms formed and the U.S. was struck a record six times by hurricanes including Gustav and Ike.

WSI predicts nine hurricanes will form out of the 16 named storms and five of those will grow into major systems with winds of 111 mph or more, according to the forecast. That would make the coming season almost twice as active as last year, which produced nine storms, none of which made landfall in the U.S.

Eleven-Storm Average

On average, 11 named storms form each year, with six becoming hurricanes, three of them becoming major, according to the National Hurricane Center. Last year was the least active year since 1997.

An El Nino formed in the Pacific and the Atlantic sea surface temperatures were cooler than normal, all of which helped suppress hurricane formation last year.

“The primary drivers for tropical activity have reversed course this year and the stage appears set for a very busy season in 2010,” Crawford said in the statement. “Our forecast numbers are more likely to rise than fall in future forecast updates heading into the season.”

The Atlantic hurricane season begins on June 1 and runs through Nov. 30.

Other forecasters also believe this season will outpace last year.

Earlier this month, Colorado State University’s William Gray and Phil Klotzbach called for 15 named storms, eight of them hurricanes and four of them major storms on the five-step Saffir-Simpson Scale.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian K. Sullivan in Boston at bsullivan10@bloomberg.net.

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