A hectic, above-normal tropical storm season could produce between four and six major hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico this year, but conditions don't appear ripe for a repeat of 2005's record activity, the National Hurricane Center predicted Monday.
There will be up to 16 named storms, the center predicted, which would be significantly less than last year's record 28. Still, people in coastal regions should prepare for the possibility of major storms, said Max Mayfield, the National Hurricane Center director.
"One hurricane hitting where you live is enough to make it a bad season," Mayfield told reporters.
Last year, officials predicted 12 to 15 tropical storms, seven to nine of them becoming hurricanes, and three to five of those hurricanes being major — with winds of at least 111 mph.
But the season turned out to be much busier, breaking records that had stood since 1851. Last season there were 15 hurricanes, seven of which were Category 3 or higher.
"As bad as Katrina was, it can be worse," an expert at National Hurricane Center warned.
"We expect there to be six landfalling storms this year along the Gulf and Atlantic Coast and the East Coast certainly looks to be at the highest risk of just about anyone," an Accuweather.com Meteorologist told CBS News.
As CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann reports, the last time the Upper East Coast took a direct hit was in 1938, when the hurricane nicknamed "Long Island Express" killed 700 people through the Northeast. Hurricanes Gloria in 1985 and Bob in 1991 took partial swipes at the area.
In the center's detailed 2006 prediction report, meteorologists said water in the Atlantic is not as warm as it was at this stage in 2005. Warm water is a key fuel for hurricane development.
"You can never say for sure, but the weather pattern, the upper level winds, appear more favorable in the Atlantic this year than last year," said CBS News hurricane analyst Bryan Norcross. "So the storms may well form further out into the ocean, and when they do, that elevates its risk for the East Coast of the U.S."
Also, it is not clear whether atmospheric conditions that helped produce the 2005 storms will repeat again this year, forecasters said. Also, it appears that the Pacific Ocean water conditions known as El Nino and La Nina will not have any impact on the Atlantic hurricane season this year, forecasters said.
Last month, Colorado State University forecasters issued a similar forecast, predicting up to 17 named storms. The forecast of William Gray and Phillip Klotzbach called for nine hurricanes, five of them intense.
The Atlantic seasons were relatively mild from the 1970s through 1994. Since then, all but two years have been above normal. Experts say the world is in the midst of a 20-year-cycle that will continue to bring strong storms.
Between 1995 and 2005, the Atlantic season has averaged 15 named storms, just over eight named hurricanes and four major hurricanes, according to the National Hurricane Center. Before this latest above-normal cycle, from 1971 to 1994, there were an average of 8.5 named storms, five hurricanes and just over one major hurricane.
The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. The names chosen for 2006 storms are: Alberto, Beryl, Chris, Debby, Ernesto, Florence, Gordon, Helene, Isaac, Joyce, Kirk, Leslie, Michael, Nadine, Oscar, Patty, Rafael, Sandy, Tony, Valerie and William.
Meanwhile, with predictions of a bad 2006 hurricane season just around the corner, an independent investigation shows that the catastrophic flooding of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina can be blamed on poor design and construction of levees. And researchers say there are serious doubts that history won't repeat itself.
, according to an independent report released Monday. The report also called for an overhaul of the agencies that oversee flood protection.
The study was performed by the Independent Levee Investigation Team, led by the University of California, Berkeley — a team that includes three dozen researchers, including experts from seven other universities and several private corporations.
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