A noted team of Colorado State University meteorologists predicts above-average hurricane activity in 2013 and is drawing a parallel to two recent years of devastating tropical weather damage in the Carolinas.
The annual forecast issued Wednesday by Philip Klotzbach and William Gray calls for 18 named storms and nine hurricanes in the Atlantic and Caribbean basin this year. That compares to averages of 12 named storms and 6.5 hurricanes.
Their prediction is similar to that of long-range specialist Joe Bastardi of the private meteorology firm WeatherBell, who predicted 16 named storms and 12 hurricanes.
The two forecasts also call for higher-than-average risk of landfall in the Carolinas.
The forecasts carry a wide-ranging impact, including a threat to the coast, the danger of inland flooding, and even the economic impact of soaring gas prices in the event of a strong Gulf storm.
Klotzbach and Gray, issuing a forecast for the 30th straight year, said warm water in the tropical Atlantic and little chance of an El Nino condition in the Pacific Ocean are key reasons for their prediction. They say warm Atlantic water tends to lead to weak trade winds and relatively low pressure at the surface. Both conditions are conducive to tropical storm formation.
Bastardi said those conditions also are likely to breed more of the long-lived Cape Verde hurricanes, which form in the eastern Atlantic and strengthen as they approach the Caribbean and North America.
These predictions are in advance of the annual forecast by the National Hurricane Center, which comes in late May. The hurricane season in the Atlantic basin is from June 1 through November 30, with the height of activity from mid-August into early October.
In their forecast, Klotzbach and Gray said conditions this year are similar to those in five years over the past century -- 1915, 1952, 1966, 1996 and 2004. That is an ominous prediction for the Carolinas.
The 1996 season included Hurricane Fran, which caused devastating floods across eastern North Carolina. And in 2004, six storms affected the Carolinas -- Alex, Bonnie, Frances, Gaston, Ivan and Jeanne. Hurricanes Frances, Ivan and Jeanne made landfall in Florida, then curved northward and dumped very heavy rain in the Carolinas mountains. The remnants of Frances also were responsible for a record-setting tornado outbreak for South Carolina in September 2004, plus a twister that threatened Lake Wylie Elementary School in southwest Mecklenburg County.
"This will be a much more dangerous season for the Caribbean, and likely the southeast United States," Bastardi predicted.
Klotzbach cautioned people in hurricane-prone areas not to focus on the number of predicted storms.
"Coastal residents are reminded that it only takes one hurricane making landfall to make it an active season for them," he said.
And, of course, Carolinas residents are painfully aware that a landfalling hurricane in another part of the country can have an impact locally. When Hurricane Ike struck the Texas coast in September 2009, it disrupted gasoline production and sent gas prices soaring in the Charlotte region.
Klotzbach and Gray are coming off a not-so-stellar performance with their predictions in 2012. They forecast 10 named storms (19 developed) and four hurricanes (there were 10). Those predictions were wrecked, in part, because an El Nino condition (cool eastern Pacific Ocean waters) never developed as expected. El Nino conditions send a west-to-east wind across the southern United States, disrupting the circulation in tropical weather systems.
Little or no El Nino activity is expected again this summer and fall, the Colorado State team says.
However, they were very close on their predictions in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
Here are the various predictions for the 2013 season:
Named storms: 18 (average: 12)
Hurricanes: 9 (6.5)
Major hurricanes (Category 3 or stronger): 4 (2)
Chances of a major hurricane making landfall somewhere in the U.S.: 72% (average: 52%)
Chances of major hurricane landfall on the East Coast: 48% (average: 31%)
Chances of major hurricane landfall on Gulf Coast: 47% (30%)
Chances of hurricane landfall in North Carolina: 25%
Chances of hurricane landfall in South Carolina: 17%
Chances of hurricane landfall in Florida: 41%
Named storms: 16
Major hurricanes: 5