WSI Predicts 15 Named Storms, 8 Hurricanes for Atlantic Season

Weather Services International reduced its 2011 Atlantic hurricane forecast to 15 named storms from 17, while predicting the chances are high that a storm will strike the U.S.

WSI, based in Andover, Massachusetts, said today that eight of the storms will probably become hurricanes, with winds of at least 74 mph (119 kph), and three will become major cyclones of Category 3 or higher on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale.

In December, WSI called for 17 named storms, nine of them hurricanes and five of those major systems. A storm receives a name when winds hit 39 mph.

“We do expect another active season in 2011, although not to the level of 2005 or 2010,” Todd Crawford, WSI’s chief meteorologist, said in a statement. “However, while we expect less overall activity this year, we do expect a more impactful season along the U.S. coastline.”

The Atlantic hurricane season is closely watched because the storms are a threat to oil and natural gas interests in the Gulf of Mexico and agriculture in the South. Florida is the second-largest citrus producer behind Brazil, while the Gulf accounts for 31 percent of U.S. oil output and 43 percent of refining capacity.

Major hurricanes, with winds of 111 mph or more, are the greatest threat to gas and oil platforms and are able to uproot trees, crush poorly built houses and cause widespread power outages, according to the National Hurricane Center.

A Record Year

In 2005, the most active season on record, hurricanes Katrina and Rita killed more than 1,800 people, caused $91 billion in damage, destroyed 115 energy platforms in the Gulf and shut down 95 percent of Gulf oil production and almost 30 percent of U.S. refining capacity, according to government reports.

Gasoline prices soared as high as $5 a gallon and shortages were reported across the South.

Crawford said the U.S. coast was due for a hurricane strike. The last hurricane to hit the U.S. was Ike in 2008.

In 2009 and 2010, only tropical storm-strength systems hit the U.S. Last year, 19 storms formed, a tie for third-most-active season on record.

“The hurricane drought in 2009 and 2010 is relatively rare in the record,” Crawford said. “In fact, the U.S. has not had a three-year stretch without a hurricane landfall since the 1860s. Our recent good fortune in avoiding landfalling hurricanes is not likely to last.”

Earlier this month, researchers at Colorado State University predicted 16 named storms would form, with nine of them reaching hurricane strength.

U.K. forecaster Tropical Storm Risk predicted 14 named storms, eight of which would become hurricanes. The group is affiliated with University College London and is backed by the insurers Aon Benfield, RSA Insurance Group Plc and Crawford & Co.

WSI makes weather-related software and is owned by the Weather Channel.

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