ORLANDO, Fla., April 5 (UPI) -- The nation's top long-range hurricane forecaster said Friday the Atlantic-Caribbean season will be more active than usual this season, although his forecast was reduced slightly from the one he made in December.
The Colorado State University meteorology professor blamed the reduction on the formation of El Nino, the warm water phenomenon off the Peruvian coast.
"The upcoming June 1-Nov. 30 hurricane season continues to look like an above-average one," Gray told the closing session of the National Hurricane Conference in Orlando, Fla.
"Although we have adjusted our forecast numbers down by one cyclone due to the development of a stronger El Nino than we anticipated in December, we still foresee an active 2002 hurricane season," he said.
El Nino occurs when winds in the tropical Pacific that normally blow east to west over the equator, reverse or lighten. That causes warming of surface waters in the eastern Pacific.
The phenomenon upsets normal weather patterns worldwide, spurring warmer, wetter winters in the Americas, droughts in parts of Africa and Asia and other climatic anomalies.
It also alters wind patterns over North America sending winds into the area where hurricanes are moving across the Atlantic. The high-level winds frequently shear the tops off tropical storms and hurricanes, weakening them.
Gray and his team are calling for 12 named storms, seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes with sustained winds of 111 mph or greater. It shows a reduction of one tropical storm, one hurricane and one major hurricane from the December prediction.
The average per year is 9.6 named storms, 5.9 hurricanes and 2.3 major hurricanes. Last year there were 14 tropical storms, two more than Gray's forecast; nine hurricanes, two more; and four intense hurricanes, one more.
Earlier this week, researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted an active, intense season without forecasting any numbers.
Those scientists said it will be impossible to tell for sure what El Nino will do until June, but without it the season could be severe.
In the last two years, the United States has experienced no hurricane landfalls, primarily because a large trough of low pressure has been protecting East Coast. But NOAA's Stanley Goldberg said that is about to end.
"We feel it's only a matter of time before that shifts and we see a barrage of storms," he said.
In other news coming out of the conference this week:
* Conference organizers named the "Four Worst Hurricane Evacuation Disasters in the U.S. Waiting to Happen." Named in order were New York; Ocean City, Md., and the surrounding Delmarva Peninsula; New Orleans; and Tampa, Fla.
* Meteorologists admit they still don't know how powerful Hurricane Andrew was when it devastated south Florida nearly 10 years ago. The conventional wisdom is it had sustained winds of 145 mph with gusts to 175 mph, but all of the wind gauges had been knocked out by the time the hurricane swept through. They said it could have been much stronger.
* The National Hurricane Center will begin giving names to powerful subtropical storms this year. The storms can develop 65 mph winds, and although they seldom reach the mainland, they are a problem for islands and shipping interests.