Very Active Storm Season Predicted

Bryan Vernon and Dorothy Bell are rescued from their rooftop after Hurricane Katrina hit, causing flooding in their New Orleans neighborhood, Monday Morning, Aug. 29, 2005. Officials called for a mandatory evacuation of the city, but many residents remained in the city. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) AP Photo/Eric Gay

With the 2007 Atlantic hurricane season a few hours away, researcher William Gray released his newest forecast Thursday still showing an expectation for 17 named storms and nine hurricanes, five of them intense.

Gray, based at Colorado State University, described it as a very active season. He said there was a 74 percent chance of a major hurricane making landfall somewhere on the U.S. coast. There is a 50 percent chance of a major hurricane making landfall on the East Coast, including the Florida Peninsula, according to the new forecast; the long-term average is 31 percent.

The chance of a major hurricane hitting the Gulf Coast between the Florida Panhandle and Brownsville, Texas, is 49 percent; the long-term average is 30 percent. There is also an above-average chance of a major hurricane making landfall in the Caribbean, according to the forecast.

Thursday's forecast was largely unchanged from Gray's last forecast, released in early April.

"We expect an above-average hurricane season," said Phil Klotzbach, a member of Gray's team and lead author of the forecast.

The forecast comes less than two weeks after the National Hurricane Center released their 2007 forecast which similarly anticipated a more active Atlantic storm season, with 13-17 tropical storms, 7-10 of which would become hurricanes, with 3-5 of them intense.

The Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, averages 9.6 named storms, 5.9 hurricanes and 2.3 intense hurricanes per year.

The latest forecast comes as a new poll gives the discomfiting news that most people living along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts haven't made hurricane survival plans — despite pleas from emergency officials for residents to prepare before the season starts.

Even after the horrific destruction caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita less than two years ago, 53 percent of people surveyed in 18 Atlantic and Gulf Coast states say they don't feel that they are vulnerable to a hurricane, or to related tornadoes and flooding, according to the Mason-Dixon poll.

Eighty-eight percent said they had not taken any steps to fortify their homes, and 16 percent said they would defy orders to evacuate and try to ride out a hurricane in their homes.

Public safety officials tell residents to stockpile at least a three-day supply of bottled water, nonperishable food and medicine.

But 61 percent of poll respondents had no hurricane survival kit. Of those who did, 82 percent packed a fire hazard — candles or kerosene lamps. Missing from most of those kits were axes, which emergency officials recommended after many residents were trapped in their attics as they tried to escape the flooding following Hurricane Katrina.

Despite the predictions for a busy 2007 season, public safety officials worry that an uneventful 2006 lulled residents into complacency; there were only 10 named storms, and the two that hit the U.S. were weak.

"The poll's telling us that more than 50 percent of the nation's population along the coastlines have no plan for a possible hurricane or tropical storm in their area," Bill Proenza, director of the National Hurricane Center, told CBS Radio.

The 2005 season set a record with 28 named storms, 15 of them hurricanes. Four of those hurricanes hit the U.S. coast, including the devastating Katrina. In 2004, there were 15 named storms, four of them hurricanes that struck Florida.

"Nobody in this country thought we could lose 1,000 people in a hurricane," said Craig Fugate, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management. "We had too much technology, too good data, satellites and the best warning system in the world — and it happened. Preparation is how we change that."

The poll showed that most residents still don't fully understand the risks posed by hurricanes:

  • 78 percent did not know that storm surge posed the greatest potential for a large loss of life, and can cause deaths as far as 20 miles inland. Also, a quarter did not know that standard homeowners' insurance policies do not cover flooding.
  • 54 percent believed tornadoes only occur within three miles of a hurricane's eye. A hurricane can spawn tornadoes hundreds of miles from its eye.
  • 79 percent did not know that storm intensity is the hardest part of a storm to predict, so they may not understand that a Category 1 storm can strengthen to a major hurricane by landfall.

    The poll was commissioned by the organizers of the 2007 National Hurricane Survival Initiative. The group includes the National Hurricane Center, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Emergency Management Association, the Salvation Army and others.

    The initiative includes public service announcements and a 30-minute television program aimed at cable affiliates from Texas to Maine. Storm preparedness tips are posted on its Web site.

    The May 10-15 telephone poll of 1,100 people has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
    • Sean Alfano

    Comments