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CSU Forecasters Think U.S. Is Overdue For Major Hurricane

Forecasters at Colorado State University think a stormy summer will produce a major hurricane with winds exceeding 110 mph that probably will make landfall somewhere on the U.S. Gulf or Atlantic coast.

CSU meteorologists Phil Klotzbach and William Gray based their prediction of a major hurricane landfall on a mathematical formula that factors in the total number of tropical storms, hurricanes and intense hurricanes that have struck the U.S. since 1900.

Based on those calculations, Klotzbach and Gray think there is a 72 percent likelihood that a major storm will strike the U.S. coast somewhere between Texas and Maine. The average likelihood for the past 100 years is 52 percent.

The CSU forecasters think the U.S. has simply been lucky for nearly a decade, and that luck can’t last. While powerful storms such as Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012 have caused huge damage on the U.S. East Coast, neither of these storms was considered a major hurricane when it made landfall.

“The United States has been especially fortunate in experiencing no major hurricane landfalls since 2005,” said Gray, a pioneer in the science of long-range hurricane forecasting. “Prior to the past seven years (from 2006 to 2012), there had not been a seven-year period on record since 1851 with no major hurricane landfalls in the United States. These conditions should not be expected to continue.”

The CSU meteorologists included the likelihood of a major hurricane strike in their forecast for the 2013 hurricane season that was released today. The hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30.

Like a recent forecast issued by the National Oceananic and Atmospheric Administration, Klotzbach and Gray think the coming summer will be a stormy one. They predict that 18 named tropical storms with winds of at least 35 mph will form in the Atlantic Basin, which includes the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic Ocean.

Gray and Klotzbach think that nine of those storms will grow in strength to become hurricanes with winds of at least 74 mph. And four of those hurricanes will intensify into major hurricanes.

NOAA predicted last month that 13 to 20 tropical storms will form, and seven to 11 of those storms will become hurricanes. Three to six hurricanes could become major storms, the NOAA forecast said.

The CSU forecasters think the U.S. East Coast, including the Florida Peninsula, has a 48 percent chance of being struck by a major hurricane, compared to a 100-year average of 31 percent. The U.S. Gulf Coast’s chances of seeing a major hurricane make landfall were put at 47 percent. The average for this region from Brownsville, Texas to the Florida Panhandle for the past century is 30 percent.

Gray and Klotzbach think the Caribbean Sea also is likely to see a major hurricane this year. The forecasters put that likelihood at 61 percent, compared to an average possibility of 42 percent.

If the 2013 hurricane season is indeed active, it will continue a trend of busy hurricane seasons that started in 1995. Meteorologists think the active hurricane seasons are caused by the cyclical warming of the Atlantic Basin. Hurricanes draw their strength from seawater that has been heated to at least 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The cycle of active seasons could continue for at least another 15 years.

The full CSU forecast can be seen here.

Willie Drye has been writing about hurricanes and other topics for National Geographic News since 2003. He is writing a book about the Florida Land Boom of the 1920s that will be published by Lyons Press in 2015.