Experts predict volatile Atlantic hurricane season

A radar image of Irene – the first

A radar image of Irene – the first hurricane of the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season and the first landfalling U.S. hurricane since 2008. (Credit: NOAA, 2011)

This year's Atlantic hurricane season could be as volatile as last year's, with 18 named storms expected, nine of them hurricanes, and a 72 percent chance that a strong hurricane will hit the United States, according to a forecast released Wednesday.

"We think it will be a pretty active season this year," said William Gray, one of the annual forecast's authors at the Colorado State University's Department of Atmospheric Science. "Atlantic Ocean circulation is very strong now. When it's strong, it leads to higher ocean temperatures in the tropics and low pressure, particularly in the eastern Atlantic, which is favorable to storms."

The report put the chance of a major hurricane -- Category 3 or higher -- hitting the East Coast at 48 percent. The average in the past century is 31 percent.

The probability of a hurricane hitting New York this year is 7 percent, with a 3 percent chance for a major hurricane, according to the report.

Florida's chances of a storm making landfall are the highest, with 47 percent probability and a 19 percent chance that a major hurricane will hit. The Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana, and North Carolina follow.

Hurricane seasons runs from June 1 through Nov. 30.

Colorado State has released forecasts for 30 years with the intent of making sure people are ready.

"It only takes one storm to make it an active season for you," Gray said.

Last year, Gray and colleague Phil Klotzbach predicted 10 named storms, including four hurricanes and 2 major hurricanes. The season produced 19 named storms, including 10 hurricanes and two major hurricanes, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

That forecast was made when it appeared an El Niño effect would occur. The resulting rains in the eastern equatorial Pacific typically lead to westerly winds that divert storms away from the United States and farther into the ocean, Gray said.

When superstorm Sandy hit Long Island on Oct. 29 it was deemed a "post-tropical cyclone," with hurricane-force winds that knocked out power to millions of people and produced floods that damaged 100,000 structures.

Since then, federal, state and local governments have been working to better prepare for future storms.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo created three emergency response commissions to determine if the state is able to handle new weather-related disasters.

He also pushed legislation requiring some gas stations to have generators ready to prevent gas shortages like those in the days after Sandy.

The City of Long Beach, which lost power, sewer and water service, plans to notify residents in advance of storms where food and water supplies will be distributed. Among the city's projects is building a protective dune system.

"While we are operationally more prepared, Sandy has left us physically more vulnerable, at least temporarily," City Manager Jack Schnirman said.

Suffolk County has, among other efforts, worked with emergency shelter partners to ensure staffing, supplies and locations are adequate. It has stored generators and prepared meals and water in a new 20,000-square-foot warehouse, county spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter said.

The county has also enlisted volunteer groups to help coordinate mass feeding projects and other events, and enrolled in hurricane decision-making training offered through the state and Federal Emergency Management Agency, she said.

Nassau County plans to strengthen efforts to get homeowners to shelter with friends or family. It also will offer hurricane preparedness forums and use Nassau Now -- a phone app to provide residents with up-to-the-minute information.

"Now, more than ever, it is essential that homeowners understand what to do in advance of a hurricane," County Executive Ed Mangano said in a statement.

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