U.S. Predicts Busy Hurricane Season

By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted yesterday an "above-normal hurricane season" this year, with as many as 16 named storms and the prospect that four to six of them could become major hurricanes.

The prediction comes with the start of hurricane season on June 1 and as the battered Gulf Coast region and New Orleans still struggle to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina's floodwaters last August. This latest active period for major hurricanes could continue for a decade or two, said meteorologists at the National Hurricane Center.

In a news conference in Miami, federal and state officials warned people to start making their own preparations and not to expect government help in the first hours after a storm.

Although hurricane activity is not expected to reach last year's record level, it is predicted to be greater than the 40-year average, said retired Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr., NOAA administrator.

On average, he said, a hurricane season produces 11 named storms, of which six become hurricanes, two of them major ones. But in 2005, there were a record 28 storms, including 15 hurricanes. Seven of these were considered "major," and a record four hit the United States.

"Although NOAA is not forecasting a repeat of last year's season, the potential for hurricanes striking the U.S. is high," Lautenbacher said. He said there is a "troubling yet real possibility" that another major hurricane could hit the ravaged Gulf Coast.

The prediction of an active hurricane season is based on high temperatures on the sea surface and wind patterns that favor hurricanes.

"Warmer ocean water combined with lower wind shear, weaker easterly trade winds, and a more favorable wind pattern in the mid-levels of the atmosphere are the factors that collectively will favor the development of storms in greater numbers and to greater intensity," NOAA said in a statement. "Warm water is the energy source for storms, while favorable wind patterns limit the wind shear that can tear apart a storm's building cloud structure."

R. David Paulison, acting director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said the agency has tripled its stocks of supplies, signed agreements with the Defense Logistics Agency and improved "situational awareness" by organizing its own reconnaissance teams to document conditions as storms hit. But he cautioned, "FEMA can't do it alone. It takes all of us."

Paulison said, "We have to be able to take care of ourselves for the first hours after a storm. People need to prepare to take care of themselves."

Max Mayfield, director of NOAA's National Hurricane Center in Miami, echoed that sentiment.

"Whether we face an active hurricane season, like this year, or a below-normal season, the crucial message for every person is the same: prepare, prepare, prepare," he said in a statement. "One hurricane hitting where you live is enough to make it a bad season."

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