Aug. 6, 2004 Colorado State University hurricane forecaster William Gray and his team on Friday reduced their 2004 hurricane season prediction to 13 named storms, with seven predicted to become hurricanes. They still expect three of those hurricanes to be intense with winds over 111 mph.
"Overall, we think the 2004 Atlantic basin tropical storm season will be somewhat active and about 125 percent of the long-term average," Gray said in a release.
On May 28, Gray thought there would be 14 named storms with eight becoming hurricanes.
Gray also came out with his monthly peak season predictions on Friday. He expects August and September to be above average.
For August, he expects four named storms. He predicts three will escalate into hurricanes, with one of them considered intense.
Since the first one, Hurricane Alex, is still churning away far north of the territory in the Atlantic, this leaves three to go. Tropical Depression 2, which formed on Aug. 7, fizzled into a wave as it passed south of St. Croix. It does not count in Gray's calculations since it didn't develop into a tropical storm. However, meteorologists are watching it closely in case it should regenerate as it continues its westward trek through the Caribbean.
And the National Weather Service is watching a well-defined low-pressure system located about 1,050 miles east of the northern Leeward Islands. The system shows signs of organization as it heads west with a speed of about 15 mph. While upper-level winds are only marginally favorable for development at this time, a tropical depression could form within the next day or so.
In September, the peak of the hurricane season, Gray anticipates five named storms will form, with three becoming hurricanes. He expects one to be intense.
September is the month when the two worst hurricanes in recent decades hit the Virgin Islands. Hurricane Hugo slammed into the territory on Sept. 17 and 18, 1989. Hurricane Marilyn did the same on Sept. 15 and 16, 1995.
Gray expects October to be a below-average month.
The long-term yearly average stands at 9.6 storms, with 5.9 of them becoming hurricanes. Of those, 2.3 were considered major.
Team member Philip Klotzbach said that some factors that make individual months active or inactive are often not the same factors that can make the entire season active or inactive.
"We are continually improving our forecasts to provide people with specific monthly hurricane forecasts," Klotzbach said.
Gray said that atmospheric changes between late May and early August caused him to change his mind about the how many storms will form this season. He said an unexpected minor warming of sea surface temperatures in the central Pacific indicates possible weak El Nino conditions, which influence hurricanes in the Atlantic.
He continues to maintain that the Caribbean and U.S. East Coast are in an increased hurricane activity period.
"We must expect a great increase in land-falling major hurricane such as this nation witnessed in previous decades," he said.
He said that the large growth in coastal populations will result in hurricane destruction greater than previously seen.
Gray does not calculate the probability of a storm hitting anywhere in the Caribbean, but he said there is a 68 percent chance of a major hurricane hitting the U.S. coast. The long-term average stands at 52 percent.
"Even with the slight forecast reduction, we still estimate the probability of a U.S. major hurricane making landfall is higher than normal at about 130 percent of the long-term average," Gray said.
Hurricane season runs June 1 through Nov. 30.
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