April 5, 2002 – With less than two months to go before the official start of hurricane season, Colorado State University professor William Gray on Friday reduced his December 2001 prediction of 13 named Atlantic/Caribbean storms this year by one.
He's now predicting 12 named storms, and he thinks seven of them will escalate into hurricanes, also down one from his earlier prediction. He also reduced to three from four the number of those that will be major hurricanes with winds of 111 mph or more.
"The upcoming hurricane season continues to look like an above-average one," Gray said. "Although we have adjusted our forecast numbers down by one due to the development of a stronger El Nino than we anticipated in December, we still foresee an active 2002 hurricane season."
The yearly average stands at 9.6 named storms, 5.9 hurricanes and 2.3 major hurricanes. Major hurricanes account for about a quarter of all named storms but cause about 85 percent of all tropical cyclone-spawned destruction. Of course, it takes only one to cause havoc where it hits. While Gray said there's a 75 percent probability that one will strike somewhere along a U.S. mainland coast, he made no prediction for the Caribbean.
Gray said the last seven years have been the most active on record, with 94 named storms, 58 hurricanes and 27 major hurricanes in the Atlantic basin, and he sees that trend continuing. "Increased storm activity, particularly an increase in the number of major hurricanes … will likely last another two or three decades," he said.
He noted that of 19 successive hurricanes formed within the last two-and-a-half years, not one made landfall on the mainland United States. "This has not happened before," he said. "The storms have been out there, but they have just not come ashore. By contrast, the Caribbean basin has seen a great increase in land falling hurricanes since 1995."
The year 1995 was the last time a major hurricane — Marilyn — hit the territory, but numerous smaller ones have struck or come close enough to galvanize residents into preparation. In 2001, none caused problems in the Virgin Islands.
One thing Virgin Islanders know from those experiences is to be prepared. St. John resident Chris Angel has his plan in order. He said that next month he'll put up hurricane shutters to make it easier to close up his house, should a hurricane or tropical storm threaten. "It gets it out of the way," he said.
He already has stocked up on the items necessary to secure his boat. He said when he gets word that a big one is headed for the island, he'll move his boat to Hurricane Hole and spend two eight-hour days getting ready. When he's done with his boat, he'll spend a day helping his Hurricane Hole neighbors prepare. "It's insurance," he said, referring to the fact that boats not properly secured can damage other boats — or worse — if they come loose.
Penny Sangster died in Coral Bay during Marilyn when she was forced to abandon her boat after another one hit it. Friends believe she was struck by a flying board as she swam ashore. Her battered body washed up in the Coral Bay mangroves. She was one of seven people across the territory who died after they attempted to ride out Hurricane Marilyn aboard their boats. On St. Croix, Earl Smythe died when he attempted to bail out his dinghy during the storm, and on St. Thomas five others lost their lives. Others were reported missing, but their bodies were never found.
There is one name familiar to Virgin Islanders on this year's storm list — Bertha, which struck the territory in 1996. That's because the World Meteorological Organization Region 4 recycles names of storms that did not cause major destruction. Arthur heads the list for 2002, followed by Bertha, Cristobal, Dolly, Edouard, Fay, Gustav, Hanna, Isidore, Josephine, Kyle and Lili follow for the 12 named storms Gray has projected. If there are more, the names Marco, Nana, Omar, Paloma, Rene, Sally, Teddy, Vicky and Wilfred are waiting for them.
Gray said he and his team are using a new forecast strategy that places increased emphasis on circulation features of the middle latitudes. He previously relied on African rainfall, but he said that has not been as skillful a forecasting tool in recent years.
He announced his change of predictions at the National Hurricane Conference in Orlando, Fla. Hurricane season runs from June 1 through Nov. 30.
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