Friday, May 04, 2007

Predicting The 2007 Storm Season

I don’t know about you, but I really liked last year’s hurricane season. Only five hurricanes formed during 2006 and, for the first time since 2001, none of the tropical systems came anywhere near Florida.

In fact, to give you some idea how unusual last year turned out to be, the tiny island of Bermuda was threatened and hit by more tropical storms and hurricanes than any other location in the Atlantic basin (Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico)

Of course, while 2006 was a great year to live in Florida, 2005 and 2004 were no fun at all. In 2005, the Sunshine State was hit by four hurricanes in six weeks (Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne), while in 2005 there was so many tropical systems forecasters actually ran out of names. A record 15 hurricanes formed that year including Katrina, the costliest hurricane in history and Wilma, a nasty late October storm that slapped South Florida silly.

Speaking of records, from 1995 to 2006, the National Hurricane Center recorded 98 hurricanes in the Atlantic Basin, the most tropical systems ever recorded in 12-year period. Scientists who study hurricanes say this dramatic increase in tropical cyclone activity is a natural cycle that is likely to continue for another 5 to 10 years.

During that same time, the Earth’s temperature was steadily rising, the result of an increase in greenhouse gases. Global warming is real and, another group of scientists argue, must be helping to increase the number of tropical storms and hurricanes in the Atlantic basin.

The issue has become one of the hottest debates in science and is the subject of a new study by Dr. Chris Landsea of the National Hurricane Center. Landsea is part of the group that believes the recent increase in hurricane activity is a natural cycle and he thinks he has the evidence to prove it. Actually, it is a lack of evidence that may prove Landsea is correct.

Landsea says scientists who believe global warming is responsible for increased hurricane activity may have underestimated the number of storms in the Atlantic basin before weather satellites. An average of three storms each year were not counted during the late 1800’s and the first half of the 20th century because they didn’t hit land or came near a ship at sea, reports Landsea in his study published in the American Geophysical Union.

“When you add those storms back into the record, we don’t see any new trend,” Landsea told the Miami Herald. “There’s no link to global warming that you can see at all.”

To support his theory, Landsea’s report displays tracking charts of the two most active hurricane seasons on record: the 2005 and 1935 hurricane seasons. In the 1933 chart, all the storms appear close to land with none in the central or eastern Atlantic. The 2005 hurricane chart, on the other hand, is full of tropical storms and hurricane covering all of the Atlantic Ocean.

You can read the full report by clicking here.

Landsea points out that before weather satellites began scanning the oceans for tropical trouble makers, the only way scientists knew if a storm had formed was from a ship report or if a hurricane struck land.

“It seems obvious that there's a big gap in how we monitored things in the pre-satellite era,” Landsea said. “Sometimes, you just have to state the obvious.”

While Landea’s study is full of compelling evidence it is unlikely to easily sway the opinions of the global warming proponents. Meanwhile, residents of Florida and other hurricane prone areas of the world, wait and wonder what the 2007 hurricane season will bring.

Posted at 8:20 AM