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NOAA predicts active Atlantic hurricane season; officials worry about complacency

Experts from NOAA forecast an "active to extremely active" hurricane season Thursday, echoing what other meteorologists have been predicting for months.

Those latest numbers — 14 to 23 named storms, 8 to 14 hurricanes, 3 to 7 major hurricanes (111 miles mph and above) — only added to officials' worries that too many people are unprepared.

A survey of residents in hurricane-vulnerable states released Thursday at the annual Governor's Hurricane Conference in Ft. Lauderdale found that most feel they are invulnerable and are unprepared for the hurricane season, which begins Tuesday and runs through Nov. 30.

The National Hurricane Survival Initiative survey, conducted by Mason-Dixon among residents from Virginia to Texas living within 30 miles of the coast, found that 45 percent don't feel vulnerable to a hurricane and 47 percent have no survival kit.

And 13 percent might not or would not evacuate even if ordered to leave, the survey found.

"The safety and security of Americans in hurricane-vulnerable states must be a top priority throughout this dangerous season, which is why I am urging all residents to prepare in advance for hurricane season," Crist said. "The time to prepare for hurricane season is now, and every family, business, school and community should feel an urgency to get ready."

His words appear to be falling on deaf ears.

The survey found that 74 percent of people living in hurricane-vulnerable areas have done nothing to strengthen their homes and 36 percent haven't even figured out what they would do if they are threatened by a hurricane.

Florida has not been hit by a hurricane since the record-setting 2005 season, and emergency managers across the state worry that residents have become complacent.

Last season saw nine named storms with only three becoming hurricanes, none of which hit the United States. Forecasters say that's largely thanks to El Niño, an atmospheric phenomenon that causes cooler sea surface temperatures and wind shear over the Atlantic, hindering tropical storm formation.

That's expected to end this season, experts say, because it appears El Niño conditions are subsiding and La Niña could form by the middle of the season. La Niña's cooler Pacific water temperatures result in lower wind shear in the Atlantic and Caribbean, increasing the hurricane risk for the East Coast.

Colorado State University researchers Bill Gray and Phil Klotzbach said in April there's a 45 percent chance of a hurricane hitting the East Coast and Florida this year. Their forecast, one of the most highly respected among meteorologists, predicts 15 named storms, four of them developing into major hurricanes.

Such seasonal outlooks are subject to error, though forecasters say the skill in such prediction has improved. Last year, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration meteorologists predicted an average hurricane season, with nine to 14 named storms, including four to seven hurricanes. There were actually nine named storms and three hurricanes. NOAA forecast an accurate range in 2007 and 2008, but overestimated the number of storms in 2006 and underestimated the numbers in 2004 and 2005.

"They've made great improvement over the years," said Dennis Feltgen, spokesman for NOAA's National Hurricane Center. "But we don't want people putting too much focus on the forecasts. They mostly serve as a terrific reminder that hurricane season is upon us."

People should prepare for each hurricane as if their area will be hit, Feltgen said, regardless of the season outlook.

Besides, 1992 was a below-average hurricane season, with only one hurricane hitting Florida. But it was a big one: Hurricane Andrew, which cause $25 billion in damage.

Emily Nipps can be reached at nipps@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8452.

NOAA predicts active Atlantic hurricane season; officials worry about complacency 05/27/10 [Last modified: Friday, May 28, 2010 6:53am]
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