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Wednesday, September 28, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Forecasters say strong hurricane likely in October

Los Angeles Times

Meteorologists examining the conditions that spawned hurricanes Rita and Katrina say there is a strong likelihood another intense hurricane will occur in October.

And while late-season storms tend to track eastward toward Florida or don't make landfall at all, the experts don't rule out the possibility of another major storm targeting the battered Gulf region.

Researchers also warn that the country should brace for 10 to 40 more years of powerful storms because of a natural ocean cycle in the midst of the most-active hurricane period on record.

"This has been the seventh hyperactive year since 1995," said Stan Goldenberg, a meteorologist with the Hurricane Research Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The hurricane season doesn't end until Nov. 30, and a top forecast group is predicting October will see two hurricanes, one at least Category 3, 4 or 5. The chance of that storm making landfall in the United States is 21 percent, said Philip Klotzbach, a member of the tropical-storm forecasting team led by William Gray of Colorado State University.

Klotzbach's forecast does not address where hurricanes make landfall or whether the Gulf Coast could be a target again.

However, Goldenberg said he "would not be surprised" if the Gulf Coast was hit again because the same conditions that nudged Rita and Katrina toward the area are in place.

Goldenberg, who helps develop NOAA's early-season forecasts, said he expects at least one to three more storms, including one major hurricane.

Hurricane forecasters have their eye on a weather disturbance in the tropics that "could be Hurricane Stan," he added.

Historical patterns show it would be unusual for the Gulf Coast to be hit with a major storm in October.

In fall, most tropical storms that form near the Bahamas, as Rita and Katrina did, are steered north by weather patterns that deflect them out to sea, toward the Bahamas or to either coast of Florida, said Christopher Landsea, a researcher with the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Forecasters predict ferocious storms will recur for the next several decades.

They point to a natural ocean cycle called the Atlantic Multidecadal scale that causes weather in the tropical Atlantic to seesaw between cool, windy phases and warm periods with slack winds that spawn frequent, strong hurricanes.

These phases are driven by two massive weather patterns that control monsoon rains over the Amazon and over Africa, said Gerry Bell, lead scientist for NOAA's hurricane-forecast program. The patterns last for decades and "are so dominant, they control ocean temperature and wind conditions," Bell said.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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