Aug. 7, 2002 – With the height of hurricane season just around the corner, Colorado State University forecaster William Gray has downgraded his earlier prediction on the number of hurricanes and major hurricanes likely to occur in the Atlantic basin, which includes the Caribbean. In fact, he now expects the season to be less active than normal.
In his August update issued on Wednesday, Gray said he now thinks there will be nine named tropical storms, down from his May 31 projection of 11. And he now expects four of them to escalate into hurricanes, rather than the six he had projected earlier.
And of those four, only one will be a major hurricane with winds of 111 mph or greater, he now believes. On May 31, he thought there would be two major hurricanes.
The long-term average is 9.6 named storms, 5.9 hurricanes and 2.3 major hurricanes per year.
The new figures represent a further downgrade of his initial 2002 prediction issued on Dec. 7, 2001. At that time, he predicted 13 named storms, eight hurricanes and four major hurricanes.
"Due to recent changes in climate signals, we now believe the 2002 Atlantic basin hurricane season will be considerably below the long-term average and much below what has been experienced in six of the last seven years," Gray said in a release. "The primary decrease is expected to occur in the most intense, and in the frequency of low-latitude storms."
The Virgin Islands is at about 18 degrees north latitude, whereas Miami, Florida, for example, is at about 25 north latitude.
Gray credits a strengthening El Nino disruption in the ocean-atmosphere system in the equatorial Pacific with inhibiting some storm development, but he said activity in the Atlantic has played a bigger role. He said three factors have helped to create conditions unfavorable to hurricane development:
– A cooling of Atlantic basin sea surface temperatures.
– A large increase in Atlantic sea surface pressures.
– A strengthening of tropical Atlantic easterly tradewinds and upper-level tropospheric westerly winds. The troposphere is the lowest layer of Earth's atmosphere. Air in the troposphere is heated from the ground up, and this is where weather systems occur.
Gray said that global warming or any other human-induced factors have no bearing on this hurricane season.
Harold Baker, director of the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency, said he was happy to hear of the reduced forecast. But he reminded residents not to let their guard down until any chance of a hurricane forming is past. "Continue your posture of readiness," he urged.
He said residents should have emergency food supplies on hand, their flashlights filled with fresh batteries, their generators tuned up, their yards cleared of any debris that could take flight in a storm, and whatever materials they use to protect their windows ready to install.
This year, for the first time, Gray and his team will be updating his seasonal forecast again on Sept. 2 and are making monthly predictions for August and September, historically the hurricane season's busiest months. Gray now foresees four named storms, one hurricane and no intense hurricanes in August; and three named storms, two hurricanes and one intense hurricane in September.
While Gray does not predict how many hurricanes will come ashore in the Caribbean, he does note that the probability of one or more making landfall on the U.S. coastline is lower than normal. He gives it a 49 percent probability as compared to the 52 percent long-term average. He puts probability for the Gulf of Mexico at 29 percent and for the East Coast and Florida peninsula at 28 percent.
"This is good news for coastal residents. Fewer hurricanes come ashore in quieter years," Gray said.
But there are no guarantees. As Virgin Islanders know all too well, the only one that counts is the one that hits. Gray noted that Hurricane Andrew, which in 1992 wiped much of southern Miami off the map, hit in a relatively inactive year.
Gray maintains we're still in the midst of a multi-decade era of increased storm activity such as happened in the 1940s and 1950s. The seven most active hurricane seasons on record occurred between 1995, when Hurricane Marilyn dealt the territory a big blow, and 2001, he said.
So far this year, the hurricane season has produced three storms, none of which threatened the Virgin Islands. July's Tropical Storm Arthur formed several hundred miles south of Nova Scotia and caused no damage. Tropical Storm Bertha this week briefly formed in the Gulf of Mexico. Tropical Storm Cristobal was churning on Wednesday off the east coast of Florida.
The list of remaining storm names for 2002: Dolly, Edouard, Fay, Gustav, Hanna, Isidor, Josephine, Kyle, Lili, Marco, Nana, Omar, Paloma, Rene, Sally, Teddy, Vicky and Wilfred. The official hurricane season runs June 1 through Nov. 30.
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