April 4, 2003 Updating his December 2002 prediction on Friday, Colorado State University hurricane forecaster William Gray made no changes in his initial prediction of an above average season.
"We expect the Atlantic basin tropical cyclone activity to be about 140 percent of average this year," he said in a news release issued Friday.
For 2003, he and his team are predicting a dozen named storms. Eight will become hurricanes and three are expected to become intense hurricanes with winds of 111 mph or more.
The long-term average stands at 9.6 tropical storms, 5.9 hurricanes and 2.3 intense hurricanes.
Of course, the territory may squeak by with no hurricanes making landfall here as it did last year.
With the season set to start June 1, Harold Baker, director of the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency, urged residents to start getting prepared. Hurricane season runs through Nov. 30.
"Make sure you have your supplies on hand," he said, referring to things like canned goods, batteries, flashlights, and other hurricane necessities.
He said that if you've used up some of your stock, now is the time to replenish it.
Gray said he and his team believe that the Pacific Ocean's El Niño is weakening and will be largely dissipated by summer. The El Niño tends to suppress hurricane activity, which is what happened last hurricane season.
Additionally, very warm sea surface temperatures combined with decreasing sea surface pressures in the north and tropical Atlantic contribute to the upturn in hurricanes for 2003.
While Gray puts numbers on the chances of hurricanes hitting the mainland, he doesn't do so for the Caribbean. However, he said he expects above-average landfall in the Caribbean.
Gray indicated, as he has in past predictions, that the region is now in a multi-decade hurricane era similar to those of the 1940s and 1950s. Those decades saw large numbers of destructive hurricanes. He expects this trend to continue for the next two or three decades.
"A remarkable upturn in Atlantic Basin activity has occurred in the past eight years," Gray said.
In the last eight years, 106 named storms developed. Of that figure, 62 grew into hurricanes, with 29 achieving major status.
However, he said there will be years with below-average numbers such as 2002, which saw 12 named storms, four hurricanes and two intense hurricanes developed.
He initially predicted in December 2001 that 13 named storms would form in the 2002 season. Eight were expected to grow into hurricanes, with four becoming major hurricanes. By the time of his final prediction in September 2002, he had cut the number to eight named storms, with three becoming hurricanes and one qualifying for intense status.
While he claimed success with his prediction, he said it was a continual learning process as forecasters fine-tune their prediction methods.
Look for Gray's next prediction on May 30, just before hurricane season officially begins.
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