Monday, January 08, 2007

Forecasters Predict Above Average Storm Season

Just in time for the holiday season, Dr. William Gray and his group of researchers at Colorado State University have issued their first forecasts for the 2007 hurricane season.

Dr. Gray believes that next year is likely to be quite active in the tropical Atlantic, predicting 14 named storms, seven hurricanes and three intense hurricanes. That is above the long-term average of 10 storms, 6 hurricanes and 2 major hurricanes and continues a trend of above average hurricane activity that began in 1995.

While those numbers sound a bit scary, it is important to remember that the good doctor is not always correct in his predictions. Take the 2006 hurricane season, for example.

Back in May, Gray and his young protégée, Philip Klotzbach, figured the 2006 hurricane season would be very similar to the record-breaking 2005 season. The Colorado State University team forecast 17 storms, with 9 hurricanes and five major storms.

A developing El Nino, an abundance of dry air along with strong upper level winds across the tropical Atlantic, combined to reduce the number of storms this season. Only nine named storms formed during the 2006 season with five intensifying into hurricanes and two major hurricanes.

Last week, the National Hurricane Center added a 10th tropical storm to the 2006 season when their routine post-season review of all storms discovered a tropical cyclone had formed around 240 miles southeast of Nantucket, Massachusetts on July 17. Originally classified as an extra-tropical storm, forecasters determined that it became a full-fledge tropical system when it passed over the warm waters of the Gulf Stream. The storm never threatened land and was only a concern for shipping.

If Dr. Gray’s predictions for 2007 are correct it means that Bill Proenza will have a busy first year as director of the National Hurricane Center. Proenza’s selection was announced recently by Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Guiterrez, who predicted the new director would be a “calm and trusted voice in the eye of the storm.”

Proenza, who will replace the retiring Max Mayfield next month, has spent his entire career with the National Weather Service, including most recently as director of the agency’s Southern Region. In his current position, Proenza manages nearly 1,000 forecasters in 32 offices in Florida and nine other states.

“There is not greater government responsibility than the protection of its people,” Proenza told a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. He said one of his top priorities would be to push for more research in predicting hurricane intensity to better warm the public of major storms.

Shortly after Proenza’s new conference he was gracious enough to jump in a cab and take a short ride to our Washington bureau to talk to Felicia Rodriguez and myself on our 4 PM newscast, Weather First at 4.

In a calm, measured voice that we are likely to hear quite often in the coming years, Proenza talked about his career (which began as an intern at the National Hurricane Center in the 1960’s and included riding through hurricanes as a Hurricane Hunter) and his goals for the coming season.

“We need a partnership with our fellow citizens,” Proenza told us. “We must all be key partners in this effort to maximize the protection of our people and support our nation’s economic well-being.”

It was Proenza’s first live television interview and he handled it with ease. In the coming year (especially if Gray’s forecast is accurate), Proenza will spend a lot of time in front of cameras answering questions about hurricanes and becoming the face of the National Hurricane Center.

“Bill Proenza has a proven record in this field and is a natural successor,” said Mayfield. “I can retire knowing that our hurricane forecasting system is in very good hands.”

Posted at 8:27 AM