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‘Active’ 2010 Atlantic Hurricane Season Forecast

The 2010 hurricane season in the Atlantic will be “active” and produce 16 tropical storms, including eight hurricanes, four of them intense, Tropical Storm Risk said today.

There’s a 74 percent chance that more storms than normal will hit the continental U.S., the closely watched U.K. forecaster said in a report issued today.

“At present, every main indicator points to hurricane activity being well-above norm in 2010,” the report said.

The forecast joins a growing number of predictions that the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season, which starts June 1, will be among the most-active on record. Academic and commercial forecasters including Colorado State University are calling for the storm total to range from 14 to 18 named storms by the time the season ends Dec. 1.

In an average year, 11 systems develop into named storms with winds of at least 39 mph (62 kph), with six of them reaching the 74-mph threshold for hurricanes and two growing into major storms with winds of 111 mph or more, according to the National Hurricane Center. The 1950 to 2009 average is 10 storms, six hurricanes and three major systems.

Prediction for Landfall

At least two hurricanes and three tropical storm-strength systems are expected to hit the U.S., according to the British forecaster, which is affiliated with University College London and is co-sponsored by the insurers Aon Benfield, RSA Insurance Group Plc and Crawford & Co.

Last year, the number of storms was held to a 12-year low as only nine formed and none made landfall at hurricane strength in the U.S. An El Nino, or warming in the Pacific Ocean, is credited in part with keeping the number lower than average.

El Nino creates high-altitude winds over the Atlantic that tear storms apart before they can form.

The prediction for above-normal storm formation this season “is expected to be even higher if La Nina develops during the second half of the 2010,” Tropical Storm Risk said. “Even now there is a high likelihood” that this year’s hurricane activity “will be in the top third of years historically.”

The current El Nino cycle is waning and the Pacific will return to normal temperatures by June, according to a U.S. Climate Prediction Center update issued yesterday. Some models suggest a La Nina, or cooling of the Pacific, may develop later this year, the center said.

Other Factors

In addition to El Nino’s decline, high pressure developing over Bermuda during the season is likely to steer storms toward the U.S., the report showed. The Atlantic’s surface temperature in the area between Africa and the Caribbean, often referred to as the main hurricane development area, was the warmest on record in April.

“These waters provide heat and moisture to help power the development of storms,” the report said. “If this warm anomaly persisted to August-September it would favor an active hurricane season.”

As the number of hurricanes rises, so do the chances of one striking the oil-rich Gulf of Mexico or Florida’s crop areas.

The Gulf is home to about 30 percent of U.S. oil and 12 percent of U.S. natural gas production, the U.S. Energy Department says. It 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.

BP Plc crews are trying to cap a leaking offshore oil well that has created a slick that is washing up in Louisiana. Attempts to stop the oil would be hampered by a tropical storm or hurricane passing through the Gulf of Mexico, said Barry Keim, Louisiana’s climatologist and a professor at Louisiana State University.

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