By Calvin Palmer
For many people living in the northern hemisphere, June is the month when summer officially starts and thoughts turn to long lazy sunny days.
On the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States, June 1 is the start of the hurricane season and the summer months lose a little of their appeal with the knowledge that catastrophe could be just a storm away.
Today, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) said that the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season, which lasts until November 30, could be one of the worst on record. Such a forecast is in stark contrast to last year, which was the quietest hurricane season for 12 years.
The agency said it was predicting 14 to 23 named storms, including eight to 14 hurricanes, three to seven of which were likely to be “major” storms, with winds of at least 111 mph.
This is compared to an average six-month season of 11 named storms, six of which become hurricanes, two of them major.
“If this outlook holds true, this season could be one of the more active on record,” said NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco.
“The greater likelihood of storms brings an increased risk of a landfall. In short, we urge everyone to be prepared,” she said.
the prospect that there will be more and bigger storms this year than average was due to several factors.
Wind shear, which helped suppress hurricane activity in 2009 by tearing up storms before they developed, is expected to be weaker this year as the El Nino effect dissipates in the eastern Pacific.
El Nino is a cyclical phenomenon that brings unusually warm ocean temperatures to the equatorial Pacific, but cooler temperatures to the Caribbean and the Atlantic.
Its opposite is La Nina, when Pacific temperatures are unusually cold. In those years, the southeast United States is unusually warm, enabling storms to grow and move.
Sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic are already up to four degrees Fahrenheit above average, NOAA said.
“Whether or not we approach the high end of the predicted ranges depends partly on whether or not La Nina develops this summer,” said Gerry Bell, a hurricane forecaster at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.
“At present we are in a neutral state, but conditions are becoming increasingly favorable for La Nina to develop.”
And NOAA said the period since 1995 has been one of unusually high storm activity with eight of the last 15 seasons ranking in the top ten for the most named storms. In 2005, there were 28 named storms.
The agency’s forecast saw a surge in oil and natural gas prices. It is also a portent of possible damage to homes and businesses, losses to insurance companies and wild swings in the price of commodities.
The forecast also raises further concern on the Gulf Coast where BP is desperately trying to contain its leaking well.
Hurricanes exert considerable influence in commodity markets. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita shut down natural gas and oil production, as well as refineries, along the Gulf Coast. As a result, energy prices soared.
In 2004, Charley, Frances and Jeanne caused lasting damage to Florida’s citrus industry, resulting in orange juice features reaching a record high.
“Any time you have an active season, it’s going to make for active markets,” said David Streit, a meteorologist with Commodity Weather Group.
The U.S. oil benchmark, West Texas Intermediate, rose to $74.4 a barrel today, an increase of nearly 4 percent on the day and reversing price falls of the last two weeks. Oil futures for September, regarded as the peak of the hurricane season, surged even higher.
If the prediction turns out to be true, and remember that it is only a prediction, no doubt the global-warming lobby will be cracking open bottles of Champagne and Tea Party activitists will place the blame firmly on President Barack Obama.