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 » 2006 Forecast  | Saffir-Simpson scale  |  Your stories

Warm Atlantic fuels active hurricane season

By David E. Williams
CNN.com

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Hurricane Dennis was the earliest to ever reach Category 4 status.

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(CNN) -- This year's hurricane season roared to an early start with seven named storms sweeping through the Atlantic in the first few weeks.

Forecaster Lixion Avila at Miami's National Hurricane Center, said conditions have been unusually favorable.

"Normally we have many waves moving through the Atlantic in July, but the conditions are not favorable for those waves to develop, but this year, in July, conditions were favorable for those systems to develop."

Avila said the Atlantic Ocean got warmer earlier, which helps storms get stronger.

"The season really begins in August, historically, most of the action in the past 100 years began in August, so we started earlier this year," Avila said.

Of course to have a hurricane you must have wind.

Air moves differently at the ocean's surface than it does higher in the atmosphere, Avila said.

Vertical wind shear -- a sudden change in the direction of the wind -- makes it harder for disturbances to develop. Avila said that condition has been lacking this hurricane season.

"Right now we have very favorable wind conditions, and in general we are not expecting to see a significant change, because generally those winds become more favorable in August and September, so there's no reason to think that they are going to become unfavorable," he said.

Avila said something unexpected could happen to change those conditions, but thinks that is unlikely.

In May, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted there would be seven to nine hurricanes during the season, which runs form June 1 to November 30. It said three or four of those hurricanes could hit the United States. (Full story)

Forecasters at Colorado State University's Tropical Meteorology Project predicted 15 named storms and seven that would grow to hurricane strength. (Full story)

So far, there have been five tropical storms and two powerful hurricanes in the Atlantic.

Both Hurricane Dennis and Hurricane Emily reached Category 4 status on the Saffir-Simpson scale with winds topping 135 mph (217 kph).

Dennis, which had maximum sustained winds of 150 mph (241 kph) at one point, was the earliest Category 4 hurricane ever recorded in the Caribbean basin.

CNN's Thom Patterson and Ed Payne contributed to this report.

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