Noted hurricane team says busy storm season ahead

MIAMI (Reuters) - A noted hurricane forecasting team at Colorado State University said on Tuesday it expected the rest of the 2007 Atlantic storm season to be above-average, maintaining its prediction of a total of 15 named storms but cutting the number of hurricanes by one.

As top-ranked Category 5 Hurricane Felix slammed into Nicaragua and Honduras, the team formed by hurricane forecasting pioneer William Gray and now led by Phil Klotzbach said there would be seven hurricanes this season. A month ago the team predicted eight hurricanes for 2007.

Four of the hurricanes would be intense, or “major,” storms with winds in excess of 111 miles per hour (178 km per hour). Felix, and Hurricane Dean, which in August also reached the normally rare Category 5 strength on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, counted as two of those.

Klotzbach said the forecast for the number of hurricanes had dropped by one because the team had originally expected two to form in August. Only one did -- Dean. But that did not mean the rest of the season would be quiet.

Five storms, including Felix, could be expected for September alone and four of those would likely ramp up into hurricanes. Tropical storms become hurricanes when their top sustained winds reach 74 mph (119 kph).

Another five named storms, of which two would strengthen into hurricanes, could be expected in October and November, the final two months of the six-month season, Klotzbach and his co-workers said.

Atlantic sea surface temperatures are around normal and there were some signs of La Nina conditions forming in the Pacific, the Colorado State University forecasters said.

An unusual cooling of Pacific waters, a La Nina event, tends to mean that atmospheric conditions in the Atlantic are favourable for the formation of hurricanes. Its opposite, called El Nino, tends to inhibit storm formation in the Atlantic.

“We continue to anticipate that the 2007 Atlantic basin tropical cyclone season will be more active than the average 1950-2000 season,” Klotzbach and Gray concluded.

The long-term average for the Atlantic storm season is for around 10 storms to form, of which six become hurricanes.