Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Hurricane Season: Big Start

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Hurricane Season: Big Start

Article excerpt

As the remnant of hurricane Dolly creeps toward far northern Mexico, the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season already is generating buzz as hurricane specialists look at July's unusually high level of activity.

The three named storms so far this month appear to bolster forecasts for a very active season this year. They also appear to fit what some researchers see as an emerging pattern of storms that form earlier as well as later than usual, in effect lengthening the active period within the hurricane season. The official season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.

Whether or not that pattern holds up to scrutiny, there is little question that this year's Atlantic hurricane season is off to an energetic start.

"The atmosphere's just juicier than it normally is in June and July," says Phil Klotzbach, a research scientist at Colorado State University. He notes that ocean temperatures in a key region of the eastern Atlantic Ocean have been warmer than normal and air pressures at sea level there have been lower than normal - conditions that favor storm formation and growth. Moreover, the lack of El Nino conditions in the tropical Pacific appears to be reducing the sharp differences in wind speed with height over the Atlantic that tend to stifle tropical-cyclone formation.

With the 2008 season just shy of two months old, July's storms either broke records or bumped the month into the top tier among Julys past.

Hurricane Bertha entered the record books as the longest-lived July storm on record. And it formed farther east in the Atlantic - just south of the Cape Verde islands - than any June or July storm since at least 1950. The storm's longevity helped push the month into fourth place - behind July 2005, 1933, and 1916 - based on a measure of storm strength and lifetime, dubbed the ACE index.

Typically, activity in June and July doesn't say much about the rest of the season, says Dr. Klotzbach, unless that activity is triggered in the deep tropics, where Bertha was born. Bertha's 17.25- day life span "was pretty phenomenal," he says. And researchers note that in each of the other three years in which ACE values for the month were high, the hurricane seasons went on to post at least five major hurricanes - those reaching Category 3 or higher in a five- category rating system. …

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