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Another Above-Average Hurricane Season Forecast

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

People who live along the Gulf and East Coasts are being warned to prepare for another above-average hurricane season. That's sobering news following last year, which was the most active hurricane season on record. Forecasters say this year's shouldn't reach that level, but it's still likely to produce 17 named storms and eight hurricanes. NPR's Greg Allen reports.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: There's an adage among scientists who forecast hurricanes. It only takes one storm to make a bad year. 1992, for example, produced just one major hurricane, but it was Hurricane Andrew, which devastated areas in South Florida. Last year broke all records with 30 named storms and six major hurricanes, including Hurricane Laura, a Category 4 storm that laid waste to communities near Lake Charles, La.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TONY GUILLORY: No one has no electricity, no water, no anything. It's just really hard.

ALLEN: That was an official in Louisiana's Calcasieu Parish, Tony Guillory, four days after the storm. Research groups that release hurricane season outlooks say this will once again likely be a busy year. A major factor is what's happening in the Pacific. A combination of ocean and atmospheric conditions last year produced a La Nina. That's a climate pattern that typically makes it easier for hurricanes to form half a world away in the Atlantic. When it dissipates, La Nina can give way to its counterpart, El Nino, conditions that discourage hurricane formation.

Phil Klotzbach, a research scientist at Colorado State University, says data show there may be no El Nino this year. And in the Atlantic, conditions are also conducive for hurricanes. Klotzbach says water temperatures in the area where hurricanes typically form will be warmer than usual.

PHIL KLOTZBACH: Warmer than normal waters in the Tropical Atlantic favor an above average season.

ALLEN: Warm water provides fuel for hurricanes and atmospheric conditions that allow them to develop. If these forecasts hold up, this would be the sixth above-average hurricane season in a row. Michael Mann, a professor of atmospheric science at Penn State University, says it's becoming clear that climate change is also a major factor in hurricane formation.

MICHAEL MANN: The energy to intensify these tropical storms and hurricanes comes from the heat in the tropical oceans. The warmer you make those oceans, the more energy there is to intensify these storms into the sorts of monster hurricanes that we're seeing more and more of.

ALLEN: There's a consensus among scientists that climate change is producing more powerful hurricanes. Mann is among those who believe it may also be the reason why, year after year, more storms are forming. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.