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"Very Active" Hurricane Season Predicted

The 2007 Atlantic hurricane season should be "very active," with nine hurricanes and a good chance that at least one major hurricane will hit the U.S. coast, a top researcher said Tuesday.

Forecaster William Gray of Colorado State University said he expects 17 named storms in all this year, five of them major hurricanes with sustained winds of 111 mph or greater. The probability of a major hurricane making landfall on the U.S. coast this year is 74 percent, he said.

"There's about a 74 percent chance of a major storm hitting the U.S. coast this year, when the long-term average is about 52" percent, Dr. William Gray, Colorado State University forecaster, told CBS News Radio.

Last year, Gray's forecast and government forecasts were higher than what the Atlantic hurricane season produced. He expected five major hurricanes, but there were only two. And none hit the U.S., CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann reports.

"We're not perfect. Nobody is. We over-forecast last year, as did everybody else," Gray tells Strassmann.

There were 10 named Atlantic storms in 2006 and five hurricanes, two of them major, in what was considered a "near normal" season. None of those hurricanes hit the U.S. Atlantic coast — only the 11th time that has occurred since 1945. The National Hurricane Center in Miami originally reported nine storms, but upgraded one storm after a postseason review.

Gray's research team at Colorado State University said an unexpected late El Nino contributed to the calmer season last year. El Nino — a warming in the Pacific Ocean — has far-reaching effects that include changing wind patterns in the eastern Atlantic, which can disrupt the formation of hurricanes there.

A weak-to-moderate El Nino occurred in December and January but dissipated rapidly, said Phil Klotzbach, a member of Gray's team.

"Conditions this year are likely to be more conducive to hurricanes," Klotzbach said Tuesday. In the absence of El Nino, "winds aren't tearing the storm systems apart."

"If you don't get La Nina right, you don't get the forecast right," CBS News hurricane consultant Brian Norcross says.

Gray and his research team study the interplay between atmospheric winds developing in the Pacific, and ocean water temperatures in the Atlantic and Caribbean, Strassmann reports.

Klotzbach advised coastal residents along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts to have hurricane plans and preparedness kits in place, but he added, "You can't let the possibility of a hurricane coming ruin your summer."

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 2007 season is not expected to be as bad as the 2005 season, which is now infamous for producing Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. That season saw at least 27 named storms — seven of which were considered intense hurricanes, CBS News' Jennifer Miller reports. The worst of the 2005 storms was Katrina, which devastated New Orleans and leveled parts of the Gulf Coast region.

Gray has spent more than 40 years in tropical weather research. He heads the Tropical Meteorology Project at Colorado State.

Gray's predication comes amidst much attention on global warming and how it could affect weather around the globe. But Gray disagrees with those who blame hurricane activity on human-induced global warming, Miller reports.

"I don't think people should read too much into all the hype on
global warming and CO2," he said. "We think these are well within the natural range."

Federal government forecasters plan to release their prediction in late May.