HOUSTON (Reuters) - There is an above-average chance that a major hurricane will hit the U.S. Gulf Coast this year, marking a possible return to the destructive seasons of 2004 and 2005, leading storm forecasters predicted on Tuesday.
Hurricanes in 2005 devastated New Orleans and other parts of the Gulf Coast, and knocked out a swath of the country’s offshore oil platforms and coastal refineries, pushing oil prices to then-record highs. In 2004, four strong hurricanes struck Florida, the country’s biggest citrus producer.
AccuWeather and Colorado State University said Tuesday at a storm conference in Houston the chance that a storm will swing over the energy-rich Gulf of Mexico and into the Gulf Coast states again this year is higher than normal.
“For energy markets, it’s a bullish forecast,” said AccuWeather forecaster Joe Bastardi. “The highest area of risk has swung southwest from the Atlantic to Florida and the eastern and central Gulf Coast regions,” he said.
U.S. oil prices rose 83 cents Tuesday to $62.30 per barrel, pulling up from its lowest level since March 22 that was hit on Monday.
Bastardi said that chances a storm would cross over oil-producing parts of the Gulf of Mexico, home to a quarter of U.S. oil production, were two-and-a-half to three times higher than normal this year.
Overall, the 2007 Atlantic hurricane season will bring 13 to 14 named storms, of which six or seven could strike the United States, AccuWeather said.
Colorado State University forecaster Phillip Klotzbach said at the conference there was a 49 percent chance that a hurricane packing winds of 111 miles per hour or higher would hit the Gulf Coast. The average chance for a major hurricane to hit the region is 30 percent, he said.
“The probabilities for this year are well above average,” Klotzbach said. “The idea is, with a more active season, there is a much higher possibility of landfall.”
The university already has predicted the 2007 Atlantic hurricane season would be far more active than usual, with 17 tropical storms, of which nine will strengthen into hurricanes and five will strengthen into major hurricanes.
The hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30.
The forecasts for an active season are in line with the forecasts of other experts.
Hurricane Katrina was the costliest storm in U.S. history, causing more than $80 billion in damage in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast. That season was a record-breaker, with 28 storms and 15 hurricanes.