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Hurricane forecast: Busy
NOAA expects above-average, 18 named storms

The upcoming hurricane season looks to be another busy one with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announcing Thursday morning there could be up to 18 named storms this summer and fall. NOAA's Climate Prediction Center forecasts 12 to 18 named storms, and six to 10 could become hurricanes with winds of 74 mph or more. Of those hurricanes, the forecast expects three to six to be major storms of 111 mph or more. The seasonal average is 11 named storms: six hurricanes and two major hurricanes, according to NOAA. The Atlantic hurricane season runs June 1 through Nov. 30.

Jane Lubchenco, undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator, said the United States was lucky in 2010 with no hurricanes making landfall.

"However, we can't count on luck to get us through this season. We need to be prepared, especially with this above-normal outlook," she said at a news conference.

Reasons for the above-average forecast include being in a high activity era that started in 1995 when ocean and atmosphere conditions combined to aid in formation of hurricanes.

In addition, Atlantic Ocean sea surface temperatures are warmer than normal — about 2 degrees Fahrenheit higher, Lubchenco said. That's not as warm as last year — when sea surface temperatures were 4 degrees above normal — but still warm enough to fuel hurricanes, she said.

A third reason includes the continuing presence of a La Niņa weather pattern, which reduces the wind shear that sometimes slows or even caps hurricane formation, she said.

However, the current La Niņa condition is fading and is expected to be gone by June, but the impacts such as reduced wind shear will continue into the hurricane season, she said.

Last hurricane season tied for third as the most-active storm season since official record keeping began in 1851.

In all, there were 19 named storms, 12 of which were hurricanes. Five of those became major hurricanes with category 3 to category 5 wind speeds.

Although there were no hurricanes that made landfall in the U.S., there were two tropical storms — Bonnie near Miami and Hermine near Brownsville, Texas.

The 2010 season tied with 1995 and 1887 as the third most-active seasons, said Barry Keim, state climatologist. The second most-active season was in 1933, with 21 storms, and the most active was 2005 with 28 named storms, including historical storms Katrina and Rita, he said.

Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, urged people to prepare regardless of the forecast.

"Of all the hazards we deal with, hurricanes should be the least surprising," he said, adding that people who live in coastal areas should know that they are at risk and prepare.

Recommendations for how to prepare can be found at http://www.ready.gov, or at the state level at http://www.getagameplan.org, or in Baton Rouge at http://www.redstickready.com.

Advocate staff writer

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