U.S. Faces 89% Chance of Hurricane Strike, Florida Researchers Forecast

The U.S. has an 89 percent chance of being hit by at least one hurricane that would cause property losses during the 2010 storm season, according to a model created by Florida State University researchers.

The average loss forecast by the model in scenarios where at least one storm hit the U.S. was $38.3 billion, said research associate Thomas Jagger. The model only tracks for hurricanes, storms with sustained winds of at least 74 mph (119 kph) on the National Hurricane Center’s five-step Saffir-Simpson Scale.

“There is just too much variation in tropical storms,” Jagger said in an interview. “The model assumes warm sea surface temperatures, a neutral El Nino/Southern Oscillation, neutral North Atlantic Oscillation and a low sunspot number.”

Florida State researchers say those four values can predict the likelihood that hurricanes will strike the U.S. A storm hitting the U.S. can have major impact on energy and commodity markets. Jagger developed the model along with Professor James Elsner.

Jagger and Elsner have collaborated on a number of academic, including a 2008 letter to the journal Nature, co- written with James Kossin of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, asserting that climate change was making intense hurricanes more powerful.

Gulf Commodities

The Gulf of Mexico is home to about 27 percent of U.S. oil and 15 percent of U.S. natural gas production, the U.S. Department of Energy says. There are about 2,000 active rigs in the Gulf with from 10,000 to 20,000 people working on them.

The Gulf also has seven of the 10 busiest U.S. ports, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. Florida is the second- largest producer of oranges after Brazil.

Each of the factors selected by Florida State has a demonstrated impact on hurricane formation. The El Nino, a warming in the Pacific Ocean, is known to create high-level winds in the Atlantic that tear hurricanes apart as they form, and is closely watched by forecasters.

The El Nino event that began last year is now over, according to a statement released by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology this morning.

“The majority of climate model predictions suggest the tropical Pacific will cool further during the coming months,” the bureau said. “No climate models suggest a return to El Niño conditions.”

Ocean Temperatures

Higher sea-surface temperatures in the Atlantic are more conducive for hurricane formation, Jagger said. Likewise, sunspots can alter the amount of solar energy that gets into the upper atmosphere.

The North Atlantic Oscillation, atmospheric pressure over the ocean, can influence hurricane tracks.

The model used values for those four criteria and then produced 160,000 possible outcomes. In 11 percent of the cases, it didn’t produce a single hurricane that would cause property losses in the U.S.

The average loss for all 160,000 outcomes was $34 billion, Jagger said. A higher average loss of $38.3 billion was the result of looking only at the results in which a hurricane struck the U.S., he said.

Jagger unveiled the model at the American Meteorological Society’s 29th conference on hurricanes and tropical meteorology, in Tucson, Arizona.

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

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