It's that time of year again, when pre-hurricane season forecasts begin to roll out of Colorado State University's Tropical Meteorology Dept., headed by veteran tropical weather researcher William Gray.

Gray's year-to year forecasts are usually issued ahead of the predictions from the National Hurricane Center, an agency of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which will be released sometime in May.

The forecast for the 2007 Atlantic Hurricane Season calls for 17 named storms to form in the Atlantic basin between June 1 and November 30, and that nine of those storms will become hurricanes, five of which will develop into major hurricanes (with sustained winds of 111 mph or higher). It said there is a 74% chance of a major hurricane making U.S. landfall, compared with the average of 52% over the past 100 years.

The forecast is similar to that issued by Gray before the start of the 2006 season, which turned out to be a relatively weak and docile season.

Gray tweaked his forecast several times during the 2006 season, each time reducing the number of named and major storms that he predicted would occur. This first forecast of the 2007 season also could be adjusted several times before the official June 1 start of the six-month season.

Last May, Gray's team forecast 17 named storms for 2006, including nine hurricanes, five of them major ones. The forecast carried an 81% chance that at least one major hurricane would hit the U.S. In reality, the 2006 season was considered a "near normal" one by most counts. There were 10 named storms, five hurricanes, two of them major, but none hit the U.S. Atlantic coast.

The explanation? Gray said a late and unexpected warming in the Pacific Ocean, or El Nino, calmed the elements, which included shifting wind patterns in the Atlantic, disrupting hurricane patterns.

El Nino pretty much disappeared this past winter, setting the stage for hurricane-conducive conditions that could show up as headline-grabbers in the next few months.

The Colorado State University team also predicted that the Caribbean would have an above-average major hurricane landfall risk this year.

"We are calling for a very active hurricane season this year, but not as active as the 2004 and 2005 seasons," said Phil Klotzbach of the Colorado State forecast team.

In a related move, Caribbean researchers will launch a pilot program this spring to test early warning flood systems in communities that are prone to flooding.

The program, developed by both the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency in Barbados and experts at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad, is in testing stages now in Dominica, Grenada, and St. Lucia.

To contact the reporters who wrote this article, send e-mail to Gay Nagle Myers at [email protected] or Johanna Jainchill at [email protected].

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