Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Andrew May Have Been the Storm after the Lull

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Andrew May Have Been the Storm after the Lull

Article excerpt

HURRICANE Andrew's devastating attack on Florida last August may have been a just foretaste of future dangers.

It was a major storm - a category 4 on a scale that ranges from 1 (mildest) to 5 (most severe). It is rare for such a powerful storm to come ashore in the experience of most people now living in Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and North American Atlantic seaboard regions. But such events may not be so rare in the future, according to hurricane scientist William Gray of Colorado State University at Fort Collins.

Dr. Gray predicts that the hurricane season that began June 1 "should overall be about an average season." It should have about seven hurricanes, including two storms of category 3, 4, or 5 intensity. Last year, he correctly forecast four hurricanes, including one major storm - Andrew.

This continues a long-playing pattern of relatively restrained hurricane action. But Gray warns that what he calls the "great lull in ... {category 3-4-5} landfalling hurricanes over the past 25 years" can't be expected to continue indefinitely. On the basis of historical and geological records, he expects a return to a pattern of more major hurricanes. He adds that, because of coastal development, the United States could "see hurricane destruction as never before experienced."

Gray's warning reflects the fact that the more scientists study North Atlantic hurricanes, the more they learn of their destructive potential. For example, Gray bases his warning on more than the history of the storms themselves. He also takes account of the climatology of several factors that strongly influence a hurricane season's activity.

These include the presence or absence of an El Nino warm-water pool in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. A warm El Nino inhibits Atlantic hurricane formation. Winds that girdle the planet at heights of 16 to 35 kilometers (52,500 to 115,000 feet) also play a role. …

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