Up to 14 hurricanes, 7 of them major, predicted for Atlantic this season

Dr. Gerry Bell, lead forecaster for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, discusses the upcoming hurricane season and how it could effect the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 27, 2010; 6:11 PM

As federal weather experts Thursday predicted a busy hurricane season this year, they also said hurricanes could help disperse the oil slicks plaguing the Gulf of Mexico.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's annual spring hurricane briefing addressed the impact of hurricanes on the huge oil spill in the gulf, and the possible impact of the oil on the storms.

Experts began by predicting an "active to extremely active" hurricane season in the Atlantic basin, with the possibility of as many as 23 named storms, 14 hurricanes and seven major hurricanes (storms with winds of 111 mph or higher).

Last year saw only three hurricanes. The 2005 season was the busiest on record, with 28 named storms, including Hurricane Katrina, which wrecked New Orleans. The season starts June 1 and ends Nov. 30.

Jane Lubchenco, undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA's administrator, said at the National Press Club that if the outlook holds true "we're facing a season that could rank among the more active on record."

But she announced that this year the National Hurricane Center will begin issuing warnings and watches for tropical storms and hurricanes 12 hours earlier than in prior years.

Lubchenco and Federal Emergency Management Agency Admistrator Craig Fugate said hurricanes are potentially far more hazardous to the population than leaking oil.

A typical hurricane would be vastly larger than the current size of the spill, Lubchenco said: "The oil is not expected to appreciably affect either the intensity or the track of a fully developed tropical storm or hurricane."

The storm could have an impact on the slick, though. "The high winds and seas will mix and weather the oil, which can help accelerate the natural biodegradtion process," she said.

Winds could push the oil in various directions, and storm surges could carry oil inland as far as the surge reaches. She said it is unlikely that a hurricane would suck oil from the surface and dump it elsewhere.

These are the storm names that will be used this year: Alex, Bonnie, Colin, Danielle, Earl, Fiona, Gaston, Hermine, Igor, Julia, Karl, Lisa, Matthew, Nicole, Otto, Paula, Richard, Shary, Tomas, Virginie and Walter.

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