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Hurricane Humberto

Do you want more information about potential hurricanes?

The National Hurricane Center is giving you what you want.

Sometime during this Atlantic hurricane season, which began Saturday, forecasters will start issuing five-day outlooks – that is predicting where storms may form five days in advance.

The expanded outlook is one of several new products being developed by forecasters as computer modeling of hurricane formation and movement improves.

The five-day outlook will be similar to the hurricane center’s existing graphical tropical weather outlook, which provides an overview of tropical activity anticipated within the next 48 hours. This information, which has proven accurate, in text and graphic form shows areas of possible tropical development and assigns a percentage chance they will become a tropical depression or storm within two days.

The new tool will assign probability that a certain area of disturbed weather will become a tropical depression or storm over a five-day period, said Dan Brown a senior forecaster at the National Hurricane Center and its coordinator of warnings.

In addition to longer-range outlooks on storm formation, forecasters are also considering issuing warnings for systems that have not yet developed into a tropical depression or tropical storm.

With some storms, it is apparent they will develop into a tropical system, but by the time they eventually do such a system will be too close to land for the warning to have that much practical effect. An example is Hurricane Humberto, which rapidly developed off the Texas coast in 2007 before moving inland north of Galveston.

“Watches and warnings before formation are likely several years away,” Brown said. “It will likely require another one to two years of in-house testing.”

Don’t look for these until after 2015, at the earliest, Brown said.

Hurricane Humberto formed as a tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico, and came ashore as a hurricane the next day. If there had been any need to evacuate, there would not have been the time to do so, it was that quick. If what the NHC is doing can give a little extra notice for events like that, it could make a big difference. I look forward to seeing what they come up with.

Hurricane season quiet so far

That’s nice, but it doesn’t mean we’re in good shape.

Although the first Atlantic named storm typically forms by July 10, the real activity doesn’t usually begin until August, and a lull in early season activity doesn’t necessarily presage a weak overall season.

The 2004 season, for example, didn’t see its first storm until Hurricane Alex began developing on July 31.

Yet after Alex the season rapidly ramped up, finishing with 15 storms and 6 major hurricanes, including Hurricane Ivan. A storm the size of Texas, Ivan was one of the 10 most intense hurricanes ever in the Atlantic basin before striking Gulf Shores, Ala., and causing $19 billion in damage.

And while El Niños may suppress overall activity, such years can still produce savage storms. One of the three most-intense storms at a U.S. landfall, Hurricane Andrew, developed during an El Niño in 1992.

So have some of the most famed storms ever to strike Texas and Louisiana: Alicia (1983), Betsy (1965) and the great storm of 1900, which came during a severe El Niño, said Jill Hasling, president of Houston’s Weather Research Center.

“There might be fewer storms during an El Niño,” she said. “But it only takes one.”

Yeah, that’s been my mantra of late – it’s not how many hurricanes there are, it’s how many big ones there are, and one of them is plenty. Conditions this year are such that there’s also the possibility of a storm forming in the Gulf of Mexico and striking land quickly, as was the case with Hurricane Humberto in 2007, or more scarily the Hurricane of 1932. So, you know, keep those emergency supplies in stock, and don’t rest easy.