The United States hopes to prevent devastation like
that caused by hurricane Sandy last year as it looks toward an
"active or extremely active" hurricane season beginning Saturday in
"This is your warning," Kathryn Sullivan, acting administrator of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA), said last week.
Her tool box includes new technologies as well as tips on social networks and YouTube to warn residents of danger, and her message was meant for all residents of the country's Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf coasts.
NOAA said there is a 70-per-cent chance that storm activity will be above average in the upcoming season. It forecast 13-20 tropical storms, seven to 11 hurricanes (with wind speeds of at least 120 kilometres per hour) and three to six strong hurricanes (category 3, 4 or 5 in the five-tier Saffir-Simpson scale), with wind speeds of at least 180 kilometres per hour.
From Andrea to Wendy, names have already been chosen for storms during the June 1-November 30 season. The forecast does not, however, say how many storms will make landfall, since that cannot be predicted in advance.
More hurricanes are forming by the year, as evidenced by Wilma in 2005, the latest in the alphabetical list of names to have made landfall. This is due to changes in climate trends including the jet stream, in which winds move eastward.
Last year's was the third-most-active hurricane season, with as many as 19 named storms (with wind speeds of at least 62 kilometres per hour).
"With the devastation of Sandy fresh in our minds, and another active season predicted, everyone at NOAA is committed to providing life-saving forecasts in the face of these storms and ensuring that Americans are prepared and ready ahead of time," Sullivan said.
Sandy was last year's most destructive hurricane. It reached category three, and although it weakened slightly to category two by the time it reached the coast of the United States, that did not stop it wreaking havoc, especially in the state of New Jersey.
Sandy killed 147 people in the United States, where it also caused 50 billion dollars in damage. There are areas that have not yet been rebuilt, despite billions of dollars in federal assistance.
"As we saw first-hand with Sandy, it's important to remember that tropical storm and hurricane impacts are not limited to the coastline," Sullivan warned.
The upcoming season's expected above average activity is particularly due to two factors: strong storm fronts coming in from West Africa and warmer-than-usual water temperatures in the tropical Atlantic and the Caribbean.
Further, there is currently a high hurricane activity cycle on the Atlantic. Such cycles last 25-40 years and are defined by large-scale climatic trends in the atmosphere. Sullivan noted that the current high activity cycle started around 1995.
Besides, the climatic phenomenon known as El Nino is currently not warming the central Atlantic, which would reduce storm formation.
"This year, oceanic and atmospheric conditions in the Atlantic basin are expected to produce more and stronger hurricanes," said Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster with NOAA's Climate Prediction Centre.
The Miami-based National Hurricane Centre (NHC) is expected to have in place from July a "new supercomputer" to provide better storm description and structure and hence also to improve forecasts. The new system is set to obtain radar information in real time from planes flying over storm areas.
All that information will then have to be conveyed to regular citizens, and social networks emerge as the best possible way to do this. The NHC has several profiles on Twitter and Facebook as well as a channel on YouTube in which it broadcasts tips in English and Spanish (http://dpaq.de/zxap9).
"In order to survive a hurricane, you need to have a plan before the storm arrives," NHC meteorologist Gladys Rubio says in one of the videos, ahead of a season for which an alert has already been issued.
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