La Nina Prediction Strengthens Forecast For Busy Hurricane Season

Friday, September 7th 2007, 7:37 am
By: News On 6

MIAMI (AP) _ La Nina is developing in the Pacific Ocean, and that cooling of waters generally brings a more active Atlantic hurricane season, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday.

La Nina is the counterpart to El Nino, a warming of Pacific waters near the equator that creates a less conducive environment for tropical cyclones in the Atlantic. Both ocean conditions are hard to predict long-term and do not follow regular patterns.

``While we can't officially call it a La Nina yet, we expect that this pattern will continue to develop during the next three months, meeting the NOAA definition for a La Nina event later this year,'' said Mike Halpert, acting deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center in Camp Springs, Md.

``These conditions also reinforce NOAA's August forecast for an above normal Atlantic hurricane season,'' said Gerry Bell, the agency lead seasonal hurricane forecaster.

So far this Atlantic season, there have been five named storms and two hurricanes. Both hurricanes, Dean and Felix, reached top-scale Category 5 strength before hitting Central America, an unprecedented event in a single year since record keeping began.

Colorado State University forecaster William Gray this week downgraded his forecast slightly, but he still predicted above-average activity for the rest of the season, with five more hurricanes, two of them major with sustained winds of at least 111 mph.

On Tuesday, Felix slammed Nicaragua with catastrophic 160 mph sustained winds and a storm surge estimated at 18 feet above normal tides. Rescuers on Thursday raised the storm's death toll to more than 40 with scores more missing.

Experts said La Nina would also extend drought in the U.S. Southwest this fall and create wetter than normal conditions in the Pacific Northwest.