Boulder, Colo. — U.S.-based researchers are predicting 14 tropical storms in the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season, stating that seven would develop into hurricanes.

The team of researchers from Colorado State University—formed by forecasting pioneer William Gray—said 2009 would be a "somewhat above-average" hurricane season.
The long-term average during the six-month season, which begins on June 1, is for 10 or 11 tropical storms and six hurricanes.

Gray's team, led by his protégé Philip Klotzbach, predicted that three of next year's hurricanes would be dangerous storms with a rank of Category 3 or above on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane intensity.

That translates to storms that pack powerful sustained winds of at least 111 miles per hour.

The Colorado State University experts, whose forecasts are followed closely in energy and commodity markets and by disaster relief professionals, had originally predicted 13 tropical storms in the 2008 season, and said seven would strengthen into hurricanes.
The season, which ended on Nov. 30, produced 16 tropical storms, eight of which became hurricanes.

Meanwhile, the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), working with federal agencies and universities as well as the insurance and energy industries, is in the early stages of an intensive study to examine how global warming will influence hurricanes in the next few decades. The goal of the project is to better inform coastal communities, offshore drilling operations and other interests that could be affected by changes in hurricanes.

The project will use a combination of global climate and regional weather models, and run on one of the world's most powerful supercomputers to look at future hurricane activity in detail. Researchers are targeting the hurricane-prone Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea to assess the likely changes, between now and the middle of the century, in hurricane frequency, intensity and paths. Initial results are expected early next year.

"It is clear from the impacts of recent hurricane activity that we urgently need to learn more about how hurricane intensity and behavior may respond to a warming climate," says NCAR scientist Greg Holland, who is leading the project. "The increasingly dense development along our coastlines, and our dependence on oil from the Gulf of Mexico leave our society dangerously vulnerable to hurricanes."

The new study follows two major reports, by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which found evidence for a link between global warming and hurricane activity. But many questions remain about future hurricanes. For example, the CCSP report concluded that future changes in frequency were uncertain and that rainfall and intensity were likely to increase, but with unknown consequences.

Improved understanding of climate change and hurricanes is an especially high priority for the insurance industry’s risk management efforts. Specialty lines insurers provide coverage for the energy industry’s drilling platforms, refineries, pipelines and other infrastructure in a region that is vulnerable to severe weather. Hurricanes Gustav and Ike damaged offshore oil production and several refineries, disrupting gasoline supplies.

Sources: Reuters, National Center for Atmospheric Research, eurekalert.org

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