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Hurricanes predicted to double

Hurricane Lili struck Morgan City, Louisiana, in October 2002.
Hurricane Lili struck Morgan City, Louisiana, in October 2002.

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MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- As the 2003 Atlantic hurricane season began Sunday, forecaster William Gray predicted 14 named storms and eight hurricanes.

That figure is double the number of hurricanes that developed in the Atlantic last year. Named storms are those with sustained winds of at least 39 mph.

Gray's research team, the Tropical Meteorology Project, based at Colorado State University, predicted three of the hurricanes will be Category 3, 4 or 5 storms with winds above 111 mph.

Forecasters said there is a higher than average chance that one of those major storms would hit the U.S. coast.

The long-term average for Atlantic hurricanes is 5.9 per year and for named storms, 9.6 per year. Out of the 12 named storms last year, four became hurricanes, two of them major storms.

The U.S. coast has a 69 percent chance of a major hurricane landfall, compared to a long-term 52 percent average, Gray said.

"The United States has been very lucky over the past three decades in witnessing very few major hurricanes making landfall in Florida and along the East Coast," Gray said.

"At the same time, we have seen large coastal population growth, and many of the people moving to these areas do not realize the potential danger of landfalling hurricanes."

Areas such as southern Florida and Long Island may be particularly vulnerable to the destructive nature of a major hurricane because of an increasing population and more structures nearer the shore, he said.

"Regardless of whether a major hurricane makes landfall this year, it is inevitable that we will see hurricane-spawned destruction in coming years on a scale many, many times greater than we have in the past," Gray said.

Phillip Klotzbach, an atmospheric science researcher on Gray's team, predicted "two or three decades of increased major hurricane activity," particularly along the East Coast.

Gray and his team usually issue predictions in early December for the following year and revise them in early April and late May. Mid-season forecast revisions come in early August -- the beginning of the most active part of the season -- September and October.

No tropical storm development was expected in the Atlantic basin at least through Monday, said forecasters with the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

The eastern Pacific, where hurricane season began May 15, had "an area of disturbed weather" about 200 miles from Acapulco.

The area "does have the potential for development during the next day or two as it moves northwestward," the hurricane center said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued its own hurricane forecasts in May, although NOAA presents a range of probabilities rather than specific predictions, as the Gray team provides. (NOAA forecast)

NOAA's outlook called for 11 to 15 named storms, with six to nine reaching hurricane status and two to four becoming major storms. NOAA saw a 55 percent chance of above-average hurricane activity.

The key to both NOAA's and Gray's predictions is the expected formation of La Nina system of cooler surface water in the Pacific, replacing the dissipating El Nino system of warmer surface water.

Ana will be the first named storm of the year in the Atlantic, followed by Bill, and then Claudette, Danny, Erika and Fabian.

Andres, Blanca, Carlos and Delores start off the Pacific season. Both seasons end November 30.

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