May 14, 2009 / 9:24 PM / 10 years ago

US Gulf may see pop-up storms - Accuweather

(Adds historical parallels, causes, byline)

By Erwin Seba

HOUSTON, May 14 (Reuters) - The Gulf of Mexico may see intense, rapidly developing hurricanes during the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season that appear to pop up without warning, said AccuWeather Chief Hurricane and Long-Range Forecaster Joe Bastardi on Thursday.

"We’re not going to see the long-term classic storms crossing the Atlantic and the Caribbean like we saw in 2008," Bastardi told Reuters. "We may see rapidly developing storms like (hurricanes) Humberto and Alicia."

Hurricane Humberto popped up off Port Arthur, Texas, in 2007 before coming ashore to knock out electrical power to three refineries. Hurricane Alicia in 1983 was the last hurricane to hit Houston before 2009’s Hurricane Ike.

Offshore production in the Gulf of Mexico provides a quarter of U.S. oil and 15 percent of the nation’s natural gas. Onshore, 43 percent of U.S. refining capacity stretches from Corpus Christi, Texas, to Pascagoula, Mississippi.

Bastardi also said AccuWeather may cut the number of tropical storms forecast to form in the 2009 hurricane season, which begins June 1, from a prediction of 10 made on Thursday morning.

"I may even drop that a bit further," he said.

The conditions reducing the overall number of storms contribute to increased risk of rapid development close to the Gulf Coast.

Bastardi said an El Nino pattern of warm water in the Pacific Ocean is forming. An El Nino creates wind shear that can blow apart tropical storms in the Atlantic and Gulf.

Also, sea waters in the tropical Atlantic off the west African coast are cooler than last year, when 16 tropical storms formed, including eight hurricanes, four of which impacted the U.S. coast.

High pressure in Africa is blowing dry air and dust into the tropical Atlantic, which further inhibits storm development.

This year, however, high winds in the stratosphere favor rapid development off the Gulf Coast, he said.

"We’re not talking long-developing African waves," Bastardi said. "We’re talking about in-close development. That’s what I’m concerned about." (Editing by Jim Marshall)

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