Prediction: More big storms this year

By DAVID GREENBERG
Sun staff


He's right more often than he's wrong. And he'll go down in hurricane forecasting history as the man who predicted Hurricane Andrew.

For 35 years, William Gray, a professor of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University, has been forecasting hurricanes. He won't tell you where they'll hit, but he'll tell anyone who will listen how many he expects and why.

In 1992, he predicted eight named storms and one major storm. The season ended with six named storms -- one of them was Andrew. He's forecasting an increase for the 1995 hurricane season that started June 1.

``Right now, I'm predicting six and two of those will be intense -- Category 3, 4 or 5 storms,'' Gray said in May. ``That means they'll have maximum sustained winds of about 115 miles per hour.''

Gray will update that prediction as the season progresses. If those numbers bear out, that means an increase in the Atlantic hurricane season. Gray points to three reasons for the increase.

The much-talked-about El Nino has been blamed for almost every weather phenomenon in the last few years, including flooding in the midwest last year and Florida's warm winter. But the phenomenon caused by warm Pacific waters off Peru heating up wind currents is one of the primary causes for the quiet Atlantic seasons the last few years. With the exception of Andrew, the easterly currents from El Nino have helped block most Atlantic storms from forming.

Normally an 18-month phenomenon, El Nino has lasted almost four years. Signs now indicate that by the height of the hurricane season, it will not be a factor.

The second major factor is rainfall in western Africa. Early-season hurricanes usually form in the Caribbean or the Gulf of Mexico. But the later season storms -- usually the stronger ones -- are formed by tropical waves forming off the coast of Africa. They are formed by rainstorms in western Africa, but the drought has meant that, if they form, they are weak and not well-organized.

Long-range forecasting indicates that Africa will not be as dry as it's been for the last 20 years, giving the tropical disturbances a greater chance to form in the Atlantic, Gray said.