Forecasters gearing up for 2007 Atlantic Hurricane Season

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We got off easy last year, according to National Hurricane Center forecasters, who admitted they overestimated last year's near normal Atlantic Hurricane season, when 10 storms and five hurricanes took shape, and underestimated 2005's record-breaking hurricane season, including Katrina which caused more than $80 billion in damage.

Gerry Bell, lead forecaster for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center, said that forecasters were blindsided last year "because of a rapidly developing El Nino, which suppressed storm formation."

Bell said that in 2007 forecasters are looking at "opposite conditions where we may develop La Nina."

El Nino exists when Pacific Ocean temperatures rise above the historical average; La Nina occurs when ocean temperatures cool.

Scientists report that La Nina climate conditions in the eastern Pacific region will, more than likely, support hurricane development this year.

This active era began in 1995 and could last between 25 and 40 years.

Government forecasters now predict above-average storm activity this season, which officially begins June 1 and runs through Nov. 30.

Predictions call for 13 to 17 named storms that swell into seven to 10 hurricanes -- three of which become major storms with winds above 110 mph.

"It takes just one hurricane to make it a bad year," said Conrad Lautenbacher, Jr., NOAA administrator.

Bill Proenza, who succeeded Max Mayfield as the new director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, warned those who live in the hurricane zone to take the forecast seriously.

William Gray and Phil Klotzbach, Colorado State University researchers in the school's Tropical Meteorology Dept., earlier predicted a very active season, mirroring in effect the National Hurricane Center's forecast issued May 22.

The Colorado State University team called for 17 named storms that could grow into nine hurricanes, including five "intense" hurricanes reaching Category 3 levels with winds of 111 mph or higher.

This works out to be 40 hurricane days, versus the 2005 percentage of 25.3 days.

Already, the 2007 season produced Subtropical Storm Andrea on May 9. (Weather systems become named storms when winds reach 39 mph; storms become, hurricanes with winds of 74 mph and higher.)

Firms touting the hurricane forecasts this year include Air Partner (www.airpartnerusa.com), which offers a hurricane evacuation program on chartered aircraft; AIG Travel Guard (www.travelguard.com), and the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility, which includes 18 Caribbean countries, and has pledged budget support to cover urgent expenses while the countries await further support in the first few months after a disaster.

Isaac Anthony, director of finance in St. Lucia, said that Caribbean countries have advocated some kind of catastrophic insurance such as CCRIF.

To contact reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to [email protected].

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