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US Forecasters Predict Above Normal Atlantic Hurricane Season


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says it expects a busy hurricane season in the United States this year. The U.S. government agency's predictions were released in its 2006 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook.

The devastation wrought last year by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita gave Americans a newfound appreciation for the powerful storms. This sentiment is reflected in NOAA's $300 million request for its so-called hurricane budget, for fiscal year 2007. The amount is a $109 million increase from the previous year's request.

NOAA administrator, Conrad Lautenbacher, said he expects the number of tropical storms and hurricanes this year will not surpass last year's, but will still be higher than the seasonal average.

"NOAA is predicting an above normal hurricane season, with 13 to 16 named storms, of which eight to 10 are predicted to become hurricanes, and four to six of those hurricanes are predicted to become major, at category-three strength or higher," he explained.

He added that the main question U.S. weather officials try to answer every year is which of the strong hurricanes is actually going to make landfall.

"Unfortunately, the factors that determine how many of these storms hit land are the smallest scale and variable day-to-day weather patterns that cannot be predicted this far in advance," he said. "But based on past years with similar conditions to those forecast this year, it is statistically within reason to assume that two to four hurricanes could affect the United States."

Access to information, before and during a storm, is a crucial issue that NOAA is working to address. An enhanced NOAA website will help inform the public.

Meanwhile, Deputy Commerce Secretary David Sampson says the government is strengthening its ability to see storms earlier and in greater detail.

"One is a new linkup with Europe's weather satellites to allow better analysis of storms as they develop in the far eastern Atlantic," Sampson said. "The second is a brand new state-of-the-art facility that will enhance our ability to capture and analyze the data that all of the satellites are providing to us, and a new, soon to be launched, geo-stationary satellite will provide a more accurate and reliable measurements on the storms."

Despite all these improvements, though, National Hurricane Center director Max Mayfield reminded journalists that there is no way the U.S. government can completely protect Americans from natural disasters.

"It is not all about the numbers. It just takes one hurricane over your house to make for a bad year," he said.

The U.S. hurricane season begins June 1 and runs for six months until November 30.

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