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U.S. Predicts as Many as 23 Atlantic Storms in 2010

The U.S. government issued its outlook for the Atlantic hurricane season today, predicting an active year with 14 to 23 named storms.

Eight to 14 of those storms are expected to become hurricanes and three to seven are likely to become major systems with winds of 111 mph (178 kph), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in a statement. The Atlantic season begins June 1.

“The conditions expected this year have historically produced some very active Atlantic hurricane seasons,” the agency said. “The 2010 hurricane season could see activity comparable to a number of extremely active seasons since 1995. If the 2010 activity reaches the upper end of our predicted ranges, it will be one of the most active seasons on record.”

NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, at a news conference in Washington, urged “everyone to be prepared.”

The forecast echoes other academic and commercial predictions that the season may be one of the most active since 2005. Many of the environmental conditions needed to produce storms are actually more intense than they were in that year, forecasters said.

A Devastating Year

In 2005, a record 28 storms with winds of 39 miles (63 kilometers) per hour or greater formed, including Hurricane Katrina, which caused New Orleans levees to fail, flooding the city and killing more than 1,800 people.

Warmer water temperatures in the Atlantic, which can fuel developing storms, and the fading El Nino in the Pacific have created optimal conditions for storm development, NOAA said. El Nino, a warming of the Pacific, creates high-altitude winds in the Atlantic that tear at storms.

The high-levels winds, called shear, are in part credited with making 2009 the least active season in 12 years. Nine storms formed last year and none made landfall in the U.S. at hurricane strength.

In an average year, 11 systems develop into named storms with winds of at least 39 mph, 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.

Researcher’s Forecast

The threat posed by this year’s hurricane season prompted Greg Holland, a researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, to break a personal rule against giving forecasts. Earlier this week, Holland told Bloomberg News he predicts 15 to 20 storms.

“I normally don’t get involved in hurricane seasonal forecasting, partly because it is not my expertise and partly I am fairly jaundiced about some of the results,” Holland said. “But this particular season I am being quite different.”

During years of high activity, the Gulf of Mexico usually sees at least one named storm, according to NOAA. In 95 percent of those seasons, the region has had two.

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.

It is also where BP Plc crews are trying to cap a leaking offshore oil well that has created a slick washing up in Louisiana.

Gas Supplies Up

Supplies of gasoline are 9 percent higher this year than last, and distillates are 2 percent greater, said Andy Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates LLC in Houston.

“We have more than adequate amounts of product going into the season,” Lipow said by telephone. “But you can see what happened in 2008, when Gustav and Ike not only came in close geographic proximity but they came within a short period of time.”

As much as 20 percent of production was shut by the storms, which struck the Gulf coast in September 2008.

NOAA today also issued its prediction for the eastern Pacific, where hurricanes can affect the coast of Mexico. The agency said there will be lower activity in the region than normal, with nine to 15 named storms, four to eight hurricanes and as many as three major systems.

An average Eastern Pacific hurricane season produces 15 to 16 named storms, with nine becoming hurricanes and four to five becoming major hurricanes. The Eastern Pacific hurricane season runs from May 15 through Nov. 30, with peak activity from July through September.

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