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dust in the wind

Less storm shock: A wimpier hurricane season is forecast — with one big warning

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Courtesy of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
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The number of predicted storms in low for 2012, due in large part to cooler Atlantic waters and a possible El Niño effect. The Northeast Quadrant
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A total of 11 storms is a far cry from last year's season of 19 named events. Global Forecast Center
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While forecasters await 2012 hurricane predictions from the National Weather Service later in May, the Weather Channel has released its best guesses and it's a somewhat rosier outlook than we've seen for the Gulf and Atlantic in recent years.

In a taped broadcast on the cable channel's website, hurricane expert Dr. Rick Knabb read the tea leaves for the upcoming season — predicting a total of 11 named storms, six of which will be hurricanes including two major storms Category Three or higher.

"Storms like really warm water," explained meteorologist Dan Reilly, noting that cooler water temperatures in the Atlantic will help keep storm numbers down this year. 

"These numbers are very close if not a little bit less than the longterm numbers for the Atlantic basin we've seen in the active era since 1995," Knabb said, pointing to an average of 15 total storms in the past 17 years, with eight hurricanes and four major hurricanes.

If my rusty high school math is correct, that's about a 27 percent decrease from the long-range average and 58 percent down from last season's whopping 19 storms.

To explain the sudden drop, CultureMap turned to meteorologist Dan Reilly with the Houston-Galveston office of the National Weather Service.

"Storms like really warm water," he explained in a phone interview. "According to Colorado State University, which has been tracking hurricanes for decades, cooler water temperatures in the Atlantic should keep numbers down this year."

Experts in Colorado are predicting only 10 storms this season, four of which will be hurricanes. For-profit forecaster AccuWeather is guessing slightly higher with 12 total and five hurricanes.

Reilly said he suspects the United States is entering an El Niño cycle, which means that increasingly warm waters off the west coast of South America will cause more storms in the Pacific. The high winds from those thunderstorms tend to break apart storms forming in the Atlantic. When the waters off South America cool, we get more Atlantic activity in the form of La Niña.

"It's important to note that even if the forecast for the number of storms is low, we can't predict their strength or where they're going," Reilly warned in closing. "There were only four storms in the Atlantic in 1983 . . . one of those was Hurricane Alicia."

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