December 10, 2008 / 6:45 PM / 11 years ago

U.S. forecasters see active 2009 hurricane season

(Recasts, adds details, background)

By Tom Brown

MIAMI, Dec 10 (Reuters) - A prominent team of U.S.-based researchers predicted 14 tropical storms in the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season on Wednesday and said seven would develop into hurricanes.

The Colorado State University team, formed by forecasting pioneer William Gray, said 2009 would be another "above-average" hurricane season after an active 2008.

The long-term average during the six-month season, which begins on June 1, is for 10 or 11 tropical storms and six hurricanes.

Gray’s team, now led by his protege Philip Klotzbach, predicted three of next year’s hurricanes would be dangerous storms with a rank of Category 3 or above on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane intensity.

That would mean a potentially deadly trio of storms packing powerful sustained winds of at least 111 miles per hour (178 km per hour).

The Colorado State University experts, whose forecasts are followed closely in energy and commodity markets, had originally predicted 13 tropical storms in the 2008 season and said seven would strengthen into hurricanes.

In a revised forecast in August, however, it said it expected a total of 17 tropical storms with nine strengthening into hurricanes.

The season, which ended on Nov. 30, turned out to be one of the most active on record and produced 16 tropical storms, eight of which became hurricanes. It spawned a record number of consecutive storms that struck the United States, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Five of the 2008 hurricanes were "major" at Category 3 strength or higher, according to NOAA.

The season tested the New Orleans levees rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina, hammered the Texas oilpatch and killed 800 people in Haiti.

A record of three major hurricanes tore into Cuba during the 2008 season, causing an estimated $10 billion in damage on the communist-ruled island as they destroyed or damaged nearly half a million homes and flattened sugar cane and tobacco fields.

The Colorado State hurricane research team said its forecast for the 2009 season was based on factors including warm Atlantic sea surface temperatures that create favorable conditions for cyclones.

"We are currently in an active period for Atlantic hurricane activity," Gray said in a statement.

"This active cycle in the Atlantic basin is expected to continue for another decade or two at which time we should enter a quieter Atlantic major hurricane period." (Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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