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Busy hurricane season predicted, due to La Niña

La nina
The large blue area indicates the area cooled by La Niña in the Pacific Ocean; normal temperatures show up as pale green or yellow
CNN's John Zarrella takes a look at the predictions for this year's hurricane season
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May 27, 1999
Web posted at: 9:03 p.m. EDT (0103 GMT)

From Miami Bureau Chief John Zarrella

MIAMI (CNN) -- The Atlantic hurricane season officially starts next Tuesday, and forecasters say signs point toward a potentially destructive string of storms in the coming months.

The reason for that pessimism is half a world away. The waters of the Pacific Ocean, near the equator, are colder than normal, a phenomenon known as La Niña. And that means that strong jetstream winds, which at other times tear Atlantic hurricanes apart, are not a factor.

"The key is the position of the jetstream," said oceanographer Bill Patzert. "As long as the jetstream stays south of the hurricane track, these hurricanes will come unimpeded into the East Coast and Gulf Coast."

Last year, when La Niña also held sway, 14 tropical storms formed, including the killer hurricanes Georges and Mitch.

While oceanographers said La Niña shows signs of fading, it is not receding fast enough to put a damper on this year's hurricane season.

The Pacific Ocean some years is colder than usual, and it's during the cold spells that Atlantic hurricanes are at their worst  

Of course, there is no way to predict with certainty whether a hurricane will strike the U.S. mainland or anywhere else this year. But forecasters at the National Hurricane Center agree that current global weather conditions make such a strike more likely.

"The average number of intense storms is two. We predict we're going to have more than two -- three or more of these intense hurricanes," said James Baker, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"When is it going to happen? Probably during the seasonal peak, which is August to mid-October," Baker said.

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