Dec. 5, 2003 – A local jokester once said that the Virgin Islands has two seasons — hurricane season and waiting-for-hurricane season.
With the 2003 hurricane season officially ended on Nov. 30 (but with late-breaking Tropical Storm Odette in action off the northern coast of South America), Colorado State University hurricane forecaster William Gray came out with his 2004 prediction on Thursday to mark the start of waiting-for-hurricane season.
Gray predicted that 13 named storms will form next year, and that seven of them will become hurricanes — three escalating into major hurricanes with winds around 111 mph or more.
"Our analysis of current and projected global atmospheric and oceanic predictors through November" show that next season "will be an active one," Gray said in a release. "We expect tropical cyclone activity in 2004 to be about 125 percent of the season average."
The long-term annual average is 9.6 named storms, 5.9 hurricanes and 2.3 intense hurricanes. This year, 15 named storms developed, counting Odette. Seven became hurricanes, and three reached intense status.
As residents know, it takes only one natural disaster to hit the territory for havoc to ensue. While the Virgin Islands was spared hurricane damage in the 2003 season, it sustained an estimated $25.5 million in damage as a result of the torrential rains and flooding of Nov. 10-15.
In his first prediction for the 2003 season, made in December 2002, Gray predicted a dozen named storms, with eight to become hurricanes and three to become intense hurricanes. By the time he revised his prediction for the third time, in August, which is when the June 1 to Nov. 30 season begins to ramp up, he was projecting 14 named storms, with eight becoming hurricanes and three developing into intense storms.
Gray stressed on Thursday, as he has for several years, that the United States in an era of increased hurricane activity.
"We expect this active tropical cyclone era to span the next two or three decades," a member of his forecasting team, Philip Klotzbach, said.
Gray does not predict landfall probability for Caribbean islands, but he said there was a 68 percent chance of a major hurricane hitting somewhere along the U.S. coast in 2004. The long-term probability stands at 52 percent.
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