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CONTACTS: Frank Lepore/NWS NOAA 03-055 (305) 229-440402, 4404 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE David Miller/NOAA May 19, 2003 (202) 329-4030 (mobile) LeaAnne McBride/FEMA
NOAA FORECASTERS SAY SIX TO NINE HURRICANES COULD THREATEN IN 2003
NOAA and FEMA Stress Preparedness for Residents in Hurricane Prone Areas
Top hurricane experts from the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) today said the 2003 Atlantic hurricane season will likely have above normal levels of activity. The outlook calls for the potential of 11 to 15 tropical storms, with six to nine hurricanes, and two to four classified as major hurricanes (category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale). Officials from NOAA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) advised residents in Atlantic and Gulf Coast states to be prepared throughout the season, which runs June 1 through Nov. 30. In the central Pacific, NOAA hurricane experts forecast two to three tropical storms; this is slightly less than the long-term average of 4.5 tropical storms per season.
Recognizing the damaging and potentially deadly effects of the tropical storms and hurricanes that form in the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico each year, President George W. Bush signed a proclamation announcing May 18-24 as National Hurricane Awareness Week. At a news conference aimed at increasing public awareness of the upcoming hurricane season, officials from NOAA and FEMA described the anticipated level of hurricane activity this season, interagency coordination efforts to help mitigate the consequences of a land falling hurricane and the importance of taking steps to prepare families and communities in advance.
James R. Mahoney, assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and deputy NOAA administrator said, "This year the Atlantic hurricane outlook calls for a 55 percent chance of an above normal season, a 35 percent chance of near normal, and only a 10 percent chance for a below-normal season such as last year."
"In the past two years alone, nine tropical storms and one hurricane hit the United States causing 54 deaths and $6.3 billion in direct economic damage. The toll can be even higher when people are not prepared," added Mahoney.
In his proclamation, President Bush encourages families along our coastlines to take steps today that can save lives and minimize property damage through planning and preparation.
"Being prepared for hurricane season is key in reducing the loss of life and property," said Under Secretary Mike Brown of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and director of FEMA. "Knowing what to do when a hurricane strikes takes planning and preparation, and includes steps that range from knowing your evacuation route to obtaining flood insurance."
DHS and FEMA encourage families to take three basic steps in order to be better prepared in the event of a disaster, including assembling a disaster supply kit, creating a family emergency plan and understanding their risks. FEMA's Are You Ready? A Guide for Citizen Preparedness, available online offers tips and information that can help families accomplish these three tasks.
On average the Atlantic hurricane season brings 10 tropical storms, with six reaching hurricane strength and two of those classified as major. Above normal activity has been observed during six of the last eight Atlantic hurricane seasons, reflecting an overall larger number of tropical storms and hurricanes observed since 1995. In 2002, there were twelve named storms, four of which became hurricanes ( Gustav, Isidore, Kyle and Lili).
The main factors contributing to the expected above normal Atlantic hurricane season are the existing multi-decadal patterns (lower vertical wind shear, a favorable African Easterly Jet, weaker Trade Winds, and warmer than normal Atlantic Ocean temperatures) combined with a 70 percent chance that La Niña conditions will develop during the summer and further reduce the vertical wind shear in the heart of the hurricane development region. La Niña is characterized by unusually cold ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific, compared with El Niño's unusually warm ocean temperatures.
"This combination of factors creates a high likelihood of an above-normal Atlantic hurricane season," said Dr. Gerry Bell from NOAA's Climate Prediction Center. "If La Niña conditions develop as expected, then the activity could well be in the upper portion of our predicted range. This is the first time since 1999 that conditions have the potential for producing a very active season." Bell also noted, "On average two to three hurricanes hit the United States in seasons such as this, but we cannot say at this time whether a particular locality will be impacted by a hurricane."
"The possibility of an above normal Atlantic hurricane season is further reason to prepare now rather than waiting for the unknowns of the last minute rush," said Max Mayfield, director of NOAA's National Hurricane Center in Miami. "Planning and preparation are key to protecting the lives and property of those residents living in areas vulnerable to hurricanes."
The Atlantic Hurricane Outlook is a consolidated team effort consisting of NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, Hurricane Research Division, and National Hurricane Center. NOAA meteorologists use a suite of high-tech tools to forecast tropical storms and hurricanes. Forecasters rely on information gathered by NOAA and U.S. Air Force Reserve personnel who fly directly into the storms in hurricane hunter aircraft, NOAA, NASA and Department of Defense satellites, and NEXRAD WSR-88D radars, and partners among the international meteorological services.
NOAA's National Weather Service is the primary source for weather data, forecasts and warnings for the United States and its territories. The National Weather Service operates the most advanced weather and flood warning and forecast system in the world, helping to protect lives and property and enhance the national economy.
NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of our nation's coastal and marine resources.
On the Internet:
NOAA 2003 Hurricane Outlook http://www.cpc.noaa.gov/products/outlooks/hurricane.html
NOAA National Weather Service http://www.nws.noaa.gov
FEMA Are You Ready? A Guide for Citizen Preparedness http://www.fema.gov/areyouready/