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NOAA's WP-3D Orion "Hurricane Hunter"May 10, 2000 — Residents along the East and Gulf Coasts and in the Caribbean Islands should brace for an expected above-average 2000 Atlantic hurricane season, according to a forecast issued today by NOAA scientists. The forecast indicates stronger, longer-lasting storms are possible and warns some could pose a threat to land during the hurricane season, which begins June 1.

An above-average hurricane season typically brings 11 or more tropical storms, of which seven or more become hurricanes, with three or more classified as major. (A major hurricane packs maximum sustained winds surpassing 110 mph and is classified at Category 3 or above on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale.)

Click here to see photos from the news conference.

Click here to see animations of 1999's hurricane season, including Hurricane Floyd, and B-Roll of NOAA's P-3 Orion "Hurricane Hunter" aircraft. (You'll need Real Player to view this video.)

Prior to the news conference, Secretary of Commerce William M. Daley, who oversees NOAA said, "The potential for economic catastrophe in coastal cities and towns has increased dramatically in recent years because more and more people are moving to the coasts. These conditions threaten life and property, and can take a severe economic toll on the local and national economy. It is imperative that local residents and businesses be prepared to protect themselves and their property."

"Fortunately," added Daley, "we have a strong team of expert hurricane forecasters, specialists, and technical personnel at NOAA's National Hurricane Center. I am pleased to recognize Max Mayfield as the new director of the Center. Max is well known and respected as a leader in his field, and will play a vital role in carrying out the National Weather Service's mission of protecting public safety."

"The greatest influences in this forecast continue to be the on-going La Niña and a lesser-known climate phenomenon of warmer than normal Atlantic Ocean temperatures that affect hurricane activity over very long time scales," said NOAA Administrator D. James Baker. "La Niña is defined by cooler-than-average sea-surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific. During last year's hurricane season, La Niña was bold, and clearly defined, and gave forecasters more certainty. This year, La Niña's end is in sight," Baker said.

Climate Pattern Affecting Active Hurricane Seasons

He added: "Even if La Niña fades by August [as the current forecast suggests], La Niña's remnants and other influences will still likely bring more storms than usual." Baker said these influences have already established a global-scale atmospheric circulation pattern ripe for hurricane activity by contributing to:

  • lower wind shear, which is critical for hurricane development
  • a more favorable mid-level jet stream from Africa, which energizes developing storms
  • lower surface-air pressure, which makes it easier for storms to develop
  • warmer ocean temperatures in the tropical Atlantic, which favor stronger storms

During the August-October peak season in an above-average year, Baker said,
many of the storms develop over the tropical Atlantic and then move toward the Caribbean Islands or the United States.

"This puts coastal areas and the Caribbean Islands at a much higher risk of experiencing a tropical storm or hurricane," Baker added.

With the ghost of Hurricane Floyd still a vivid reminder, Mayfield warned Americans not to overlook the dangers of inland flooding from land-falling storms.

"Unfortunately, most of the 56 U.S. citizens that died as a direct result of Hurricane Floyd lost their lives from inland flooding," Mayfield said. "Inland flooding is the deadly by-product of hurricanes that can not be ignored. However, he cautioned, "The greatest potential for loss of life from a hurricane remains storm surge. When an evacuation order is given, it should be treated as a life or death matter."

James Lee Witt, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, heartily seconded this concern. "As we approach another hurricane season, FEMA is concerned by new polling data that show many Americans underestimate the very real dangers posed by hurricanes. The new data indicates that while people believe there is a real threat posed by hurricanes, many Americans, especially in the South and mid Atlantic regions, have not taken the basic steps necessary to prevent a disaster from hitting home," said Witt. "We cannot prevent the weather, but we can prevent the damage."

Last year's hurricane season brought a flurry of activity: 12 named storms, with five (Hurricanes Bret, Floyd, Irene and Tropical Storms Dennis and Harvey) striking the mainland United States, claiming a total of 60 lives.

Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Jack Kelly, director of NOAA's National Weather Service, said continued improvements in forecast technology are already helping meteorologists track the direction of storms more closely. "Better data from weather satellites and hurricane surveillance planes, coupled with better models, have provided better forecasts," he said.

Thirty years ago, the 24-hour forecast error averaged 140 miles. It is 100 miles today, and the National Weather Service goal is to improve to 80 miles by 2005. Kelly cautioned, " But don't be lulled into a false sense of security. Although forecasts are becoming more accurate, there are still limitations and uncertainty. Hurricanes are very volatile storms and coastal and inland residents must be wary."

Kelly said one of the best ways to get accurate, updated warnings of hurricanes is NOAA Weather Radio. The newest models of these special radio receivers can be programmed to sound an alarm when dangerous weather approaches.

"Every home, school, office, church or business along the East and Gulf coasts should have a NOAA Weather Radio, and be prepared to respond when the warnings are announced," Kelly said.

Forecasters will issue another hurricane outlook in August, which will update the one released today. The hurricane season ends Nov. 30.

A B-Roll video tape is available, which includes: 3-D visualization loops of hurricanes Floyd and Irene, an animated map of the tracks of the 1999 hurricanes, along with a composite of the year's storms, colored SLOSH model animations of storm surge from hurricanes Andrew, Hugo and Floyd, and footage of the WP-3D Orion hurricane surveillance plane.

The archived webcast of the news conference is available at "Hurricanes: Nature's Greastest Storms."
A recap of the 1999 hurricane season, graphics and other hurricane information is also available on that site.

For more information visit NOAA's Climate Prediction Center to view the hurricane season outlook.

Satellite Imagery of Hurricanes

NOAA's WD P-3 Orion "Hurricane Hunter" Aircraft

NOAA's National Hurricane Center

All About Storm Surge



Media Contacts:
Curtis Carey, NOAA's National Weather Service, (301) 713-0622 or Frank Lepore, NOAA's National Hurricane Center, Miami, Fla., (305) 229-4404