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Ready or not, the 2008 Atlantic Hurricane Season has begun.And until Nov. 30, weather forecasters will keep a close eye on tropical systems along the Eastern Seaboard.June 1 is the start date for activity.In April, a team of Colorado State University forecasters predicted that at least 15 named storms will form in the Atlantic basin, with eight growing into hurricane status. Four of these storms are expected to develop into major hurricanes with sustained winds greater than 111 mph.The CSU team said there is a 69 percent chance that at least one major hurricane will make landfall somewhere along the U.S. coastline, including a 45 percent chance along the East Coast, including Florida.Last month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast 12 to 16 named storms, including six to nine hurricanes.
Both forecasts are an increase in both the number of hurricane and named storms in 2007.Last year, there were 15 named storms, six of which reached hurricane status. An average hurricane season produces 11 named storms, including six hurricanes, with two of those being intense.While forecasting tropical systems is an inexact science, William Gray, the former Colorado State University climatologist who developed the system used in seasonal predictions, said that team will stick by its April forecast.Phil Klotzbach, lead author of the CSU forecast told the Associated Press on Tuesday that “conditions in the tropical Atlantic look quite favorable for an active hurricane season.”Although it did not endanger the U.S. coastline, Tropical Storm Arthur appeared right on cue this week, soaking the Yucatan Peninsula, causing flooding and mudslides in Mexico, Belize and Guatemala.An inexact scienceHandicapping the hurricane season is hit and miss, said Morris Russell, director of Lancaster County Emergency Management.“The last two years, long range forecasts have been totally useless,” Russell said. “We go by what we see happening six or seven days out in the Gulf. That’s about all you can do.”Many climatologists now issue disclaimers with their annual forecasts.They base predictions on past weather patterns, computer models and warm sea surface temperatures (El Nino/La Nina conditions). El Nino refers to a periodic warming in sea-surface temperatures across the central and east-central equatorial Pacific while La Nina refers to the periodic cooling of sea-surface temperatures.These changes in ocean surface temperatures affect tropical rainfall patterns and atmospheric winds over the Pacific, which in turn impact the ocean temperatures and currents around the globe.This year, the CSU team is basing its forecast on neutral or weak La Nina conditions combined with a warm north and tropical Atlantic, making it similar to the 1950, 1989, 1999 and 2000 tropical storm seasons.But which forecast garners the most attention?“We pay more attention to what NOAA says,” Russell said. “That’s our bread and butter. There are some nice ones out there, but we stay with the National Weather Service.”Russell said many here still remember Sept. 22, 1989, when Hurricane Hugo made landfall in South Carolina as a Category 4 storm, with winds in excess of 131 mph, a 20-foot storm surge and more than 10 inches of rainfall.Considered Lancaster'’s worst storm in more than 50 years, portions of the county resembled a battlefield with impassable streets due to downed trees and power lines. Damage to local businesses, churches and personal property ran into the millions of dollars, with some local homes without power for almost a month.“There was total devastation in some areas of the county,” Russell said. “It was a challenge just to get a bag of ice. All of us were in the same boat together.”Russell said what set Hurricane Hugo apart is no one expected it to come more than 150 miles inland with that much force. While it had weakened, Hurricane Hugo was still classified as a Category 3 storm with winds in excess of 111 mph when it tore through the central portion of the state.“I still consider Hugo to be our 100-year storm because of that.”Proper planning To help prepare for the tropical storm season, South Carolina Emergency Management has set up a 2008 Hurricane Guide at www.scemd.org. The guide includes suggested safety items, evacuation routes, shelter locations, emergency broadcast stations, animal care resources and maps of the state’s most vulnerable areas.“You should have a plan for your family,” Russell said.“Regardless of what’s going on, you need to be prepared all the time. You need to be ready to deal with your situation for 72 hours.“That’s three days, no matter how you look at it,” Russell said.
2008 Hurricane namesArthurBerthaCristobalDollyEdouardFayGustavHannaIkeJosephineKyleLauraMarcoNanaOmarPalomaReneSallyTeddyVickyWilfred
What to expect- Category 1 – Wind speed 74-95 mph; No real damage to buildings with primary damage to unanchored mobile homes, shrubbery and trees- Category 2 – Wind speed 96-100 mph; Some roof, door and window damage with considerable damage to mobile homes and vegetation- Category 3 – Wind speed 111-130 mph; Structural damage with minor wall failure to small homes, mobile home destruction and inland flooding- Category 4 – Wind speed 131-155 mph; Wall failure, roof failure on small homes and major beach erosion- Category 5 – Wind speed 155 mph plus; Complete roof failure and homes and industrial buildings, small utility buildings blown away and flooding an extent that requires evacuation