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Preseason hurricane forecasts could be scaled back, experts say

We made it through a third of the hurricane season. Four more months to go.

And so far, we've seen none of the above-average activity the country's top forecasters predicted in May. Many compared it with the record-breaking, chaotic season of 2005, which produced Katrina and 14 other hurricanes.

Come this week, however, those season outlooks may be toned down a bit. Top meteorologists at Colorado State University and the National Hurricane Center are expected to release their August forecasts on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. Some weather analysts wonder if they'll back off the claim that this may be among the most active Atlantic storm seasons we've ever seen.

They also wonder why we should even pay attention.

"There are certain things that govern whether we have an active or inactive season that are just not well known," said Peter Ray, a meteorology professor at Florida State University who runs an independent blog about hurricanes (hurricanehunt.com) and weather. "Hurricane forecasts are at best an approximate estimate. And honestly, I don't think they are that useful."

Even forecasters who issue long-range forecasts include reminders that they are merely informed speculation, mainly used to heighten awareness. There are certain factors, such as sea surface temperatures, El Niño vs. La Niña years and global oscillations, that affect hurricane formation. Of six forecasts before this season, five predicted it would be among the five busiest in history, some comparing it with 2005.

But in 2005, there were five named storms and two major hurricanes at this point in the season. So far, we've had two named storms, neither of which caused much of a stir.

"This is not a 2005," said Jeff Masters, who analyzes weather patterns at the website he co-founded, wunderground.com. That was an unusual season, he said, "in that we had a ridiculously active July. Thank goodness that didn't happen."

Emergency planners aren't quite sighing with relief yet. Those who have been in Florida for long know season outlooks are interesting but generally unreliable.

"It's nice someone's out there looking at global weather patterns and these kinds of issues," said Dan Fulcher, a Hillsborough County emergency planner. "But I don't know that any year has ever been accurate. Our message to the public is … it doesn't matter. … You have to prepare for that one that might hit us."

Across the board, experts and meteorologists seem to agree that it's far too early to make any kind of season assessment. A quiet first couple of months isn't unusual, since 90 percent of storms typically happen after July, with early September as the peak.

On Sunday the National Hurricane Center in Miami was monitoring a large area of low pressure between Africa and the Lesser Antilles Islands, projected to have an 80 percent chance of becoming a tropical depression by Tuesday. Predicting the risk of it becoming a hurricane would be too speculative, Masters wrote in his blog Sunday.

"I still think things are going to take off at some point," Masters said. "And that point is usually mid August."

Later this week, we'll see if the experts feel the same.

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

>> Fast facts

2010 preseason outlooks

Penn State University: 23 named storms

UKMET GloSea: 20 named storms

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association: 8.5 named storms, 11 hurricanes, 5 major hurricanes

Colorado State University: 18 named storms, 10 hurricanes, 5 intense hurricanes

Tropical Storm Risk: 17.7 named storms, 9.5 hurricanes, 4.4 intense hurricanes

Florida State University: 17 named storms, 10 hurricanes

Source: Compiled by Weather Underground

On the Web

For the 2010 hurricane guide, go to www.tampabay.com/specials/2010/reports/hurricane-guide.

Preseason hurricane forecasts could be scaled back, experts say 08/01/10 [Last modified: Sunday, August 1, 2010 11:18pm]

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