FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Frank Lepore
NOAA Says 5 to 7 Hurricanes Could Threaten
Top hurricane experts from the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration today said the 2001 Atlantic hurricane season likely will have normal levels of activity, bringing fewer storms than the past three years. However, officials advised residents in Atlantic and Gulf Coast states to be prepared for storms, high winds and flooding throughout the season, which begins June 1.
At a press conference at the Ronald Reagan National Airport near Washington, D.C., NOAA officials said the absence of strong La Niña conditions this year will likely result in a number of storms, but relatively fewer compared to the last three seasons. In 2000, there were 14 named storms, of which eight became hurricanes.
A normal Atlantic hurricane season typically brings eight to 11 tropical storms, of which five to seven reach hurricane strength, with two to three classified as major. A major hurricane packs sustained winds greater than 110 mph and is classified at Category 3, or above, on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. Seasons with normal hurricane activity average one to two land-falling hurricanes in the United States, and one in the Caribbean.
"Although we expect an average level of activity this season, that is no cause to become complacent. With the possibility of five to seven hurricanes, residents in hurricane prone areas can't afford to let their guard down," said Scott Gudes, NOAA's acting administrator. "Just one storm can dramatically change your life."
The news conference also marked the start of a nationwide Hurricane Awareness Week campaign led by NOAA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and storm-vulnerable states to increase preparedness and safety among residents.
Gudes pointed to continuing improvements in technology and research that enabled forecasters to produce the 2001 outlook. "Better data from NOAA's weather satellites, better models, the latest supercomputers and an improved ability to monitor and understand global climate patterns are helping to create better long-term forecasts," Gudes said.
Prior to the news conference, FEMA Director Joe M. Allbaugh said, "As we look to another hurricane season with an ever-growing population living in vulnerable coastal areas, our charge is clear. FEMA stands ready to provide both the leadership and the necessary technical assistance and guidance to communities as they assume responsibility for becoming more disaster resistant. Preventing the loss of life, minimizing the damage to property from hurricanes is a responsibility that is shared by all."
Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Jack Kelly, director of NOAA's National Weather Service, said without a strong La Niña or El Niño the key climate patterns guiding this year's expected activity are long-term patterns of tropical rainfall, air pressure and temperatures of the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea.
"Forecasters will monitor these climate patterns, especially leading up to the August - October peak period of the season," Kelly said. "One of the most valuable forecast tools is the information gathered by NOAA and U.S. Air Force Reserve personnel who fly directly into these storms," Kelly added, while flanked by NOAA's WP-3D, G-IV and the Air Force's WC-130-H hurricane hunter/research aircraft.
Max Mayfield, director of the weather service's National Hurricane Center in Miami, said hurricane-spawned disasters occur even in years with normal, or below-normal, levels of activity. Hurricanes Donna of 1960, David and Frederic of 1979, and Elena, Gloria and Juan of 1985 are reminders of the destruction that can occur during seasons with normal hurricane activity, he said. Hurricane Andrew of 1992, the costliest hurricane on record, developed during a season of below-normal hurricane activity, Mayfield added.
"[Hurricane] Donna killed 50 people in the United States, and [Hurricane] Andrew caused more than $25 billion in damage in Florida," Mayfield said. "We don't want people to be caught off guard by a land-falling storm because the hurricane outlook calls for normal storm activity."
Mayfield also highlighted the dangers of inland flooding. "In 1999, Hurricane Floyd brought record flooding to the East Coast. Fifty of the 56 deaths during Hurricane Floyd were a direct result of inland flooding. That kind of threat remains with each approaching storm."
Mayfield added, "Storm surge from hurricanes bring the greatest potential for loss of life. When an evacuation order is given, residents should treat it as a life or death matter."
Brig. Gen. Robert Duignan, deputy to the Chief of Air Force Reserve, said the Air Force Reserve Command mission significantly narrows the coastline warning made by the National Hurricane Center. "This warning saves millions of dollars for businesses and, more important, saves the lives of citizens located in the storm's path," Duignan said.
"Studies have shown the high accuracy data from our Air Force Reserve and NOAA aircraft have improved the forecast accuracy by about 25 percent. Aircrews in these storms also have detected sudden, dangerous changes in hurricane intensity and movement, which are currently very difficult to detect by satellite alone," added Duignan. "The Hurricane Hunters are proud to serve as a vital link in the hurricane surveillance and warning network, alerting vulnerable populations."
Hurricane Awareness Week features a new Web site (available at http://www.nhc.noaa.gov) that highlights five topics -- one for each day of the week -- vital to saving lives and property: Day 1 - Coastal and Marine Hazards; Day 2 - Wind Hazards; Day 3 - Inland Flooding; Day 4 - The Forecast Process and; Day 5 - Disaster Prevention.
The Atlantic hurricane seasons ends Nov. 30. As always, NOAA forecasters will issue an updated hurricane outlook in August.
NOTE TO MEDIA: A B-roll video tape is available which includes animation of hurricane season 2000 storm tracks, NOAA's GOES environmental satellite loops of significant Atlantic storms, and interior/exterior clips of NOAA WP-3D Orion and Gulfstream IV research aircraft.
To obtain a more detailed 2001 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook online visit: http://www.noaa.gov.
NOAA's Central Pacific Hurricane Center Web site is available at: http://www.nws.noaa.gov/pr/hnl/cphc/pages/cphc.shtml.