GOVERNMENT monitors forecast up to eight hurricanes this season

Thursday, August 9th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Hurricane experts boosted their predictions for this storm season on Thursday, calling for as many as a dozen tropical storms including up to eight hurricanes.

Conditions over the tropical Atlantic Ocean increasingly favor storm development as the peak of the hurricane season approaches, forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.

``These systems are more likely to become major hurricanes, and pose a threat to both the U.S. and the region around the Caribbean Sea, as they move westward across the tropical Atlantic,'' said Gerry Bell, a hurricane specialist at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center.

In May, the government forecasters had predicted an average hurricane season, calling for up to 11 tropical storms, including as many as seven hurricanes. Now they are boosting the expectation by one in each category.

Hurricane forecaster William Gray of Colorado State University has also increased his prediction. In April he forecast 10 tropical storms including six hurricanes, but in June increased that to up to 12 storms and seven hurricanes.

So far there have been two tropical storms this season, Allison and Barry, both of which caused damage when they struck the United States and, in Allison's case, fatalities.

Bell said the primary factors guiding the forecast include the absence of either El Nino and La Nina phenomena in the Pacific Ocean. Those unusual temperature conditions can affect the weather worldwide.

Other factors include below average vertical wind shear, above average sea-surface temperatures, and a favorable midlevel steering flow in the main development region, all of which favor the spawning of hurricanes over the tropical Atlantic.

Wind shear is a sharp difference in wind speed at different altitudes, a condition that can limit storms by preventing them from developing vertically. Warmer ocean waters encourage storms by providing them heat energy to increase their development.

These conditions are consistent with several years of having more hurricanes than normal, which seems to be underway, according to a study by NOAA meteorologists Stan Goldenberg and Chris Landsea.

NOAA forecasters said Tropical Storm Allison was responsible for at least 40 deaths and $5 billion in damages from Texas to Pennsylvania in June.

They cited that storm as an example of why people should focus on the impact of a land-falling storm, not just the number of storms that could occur.

``Our message continues to be: 'It only takes one storm to ruin your year,''' said Max Mayfield, director of NOAAs National Hurricane Center in Miami. ``Allison was not classified as a hurricane, yet it brought record devastation through its torrential rains and inland floods.''

While Allison highlighted the dangers of inland flooding, Mayfield said, ``storm surge from hurricanes brings the greatest potential for loss of life. When an evacuation order is made, residents should take it seriously.''

According to Census figures, more than 48 million people live within 50 miles of the Gulf and Atlantic coasts.

The Atlantic hurricane season ends Nov. 30.