May 22, 2001 — Although federal hurricane experts are predicting a "normal" storm season this year, they cautioned Monday that residents in hurricane-prone areas should not become complacent.
Top hurricane experts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the 2001 Atlantic hurricane season likely will have normal levels of activity, bringing fewer storms than in the past three years. But officials advised residents in the Caribbean, Atlantic and Gulf Coast areas to be prepared for storms, high winds and flooding.
At a news conference at the Ronald Reagan National Airport near Washington, D.C., NOAA officials said the absence of strong La Niña conditions this year will likely result in fewer named storms than in the last three seasons. As many as 11 tropical storms — including five to seven hurricanes — could threaten hurricane-prone areas this year. In 2000, there were 14 named storms, eight of which became hurricanes.
A normal Atlantic hurricane season typically brings eight to 11 tropical storms, of which five to seven reach hurricane strength, with two to three classified as major. A major hurricane packs sustained winds greater than 110 mph and is classified at Category 3 or above on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. Seasons with normal hurricane activity average one to two land-falling hurricanes in the United States, and one in the Caribbean.
Noted forecaster William Gray, professor of atmospheric science at Colorado State University, and his research team released their updated hurricane projection Friday. It calls for 10 named storms, six hurricanes and two intense storm systems during the months of the traditional hurricane season. The Gray forecast projects one tropical storm and one hurricane more than an initial 2001 forecast released last December.
The normal forecast is based on the absence of such influences as the El Nino and La Nina phenomena, in which unusual warming or cooling of the tropical Pacific can affect the weather worldwide, officials said. Without those influences, the key climatic factors guiding this year's expected activity are long-term patterns of tropical rainfall, air pressure and temperatures of the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea.
The Atlantic hurricane seasons opens June 1 and ends Nov. 30. NOAA forecasters will issue an updated hurricane outlook in August.