Experts predict active hurricane season with probable U.S. landfalls

Another active hurricane season is expected in the Atlantic, but more daunting is that at least one forecasting agency is calling for U.S. landfalls, with the Gulf region facing the greatest threat, for the first time since 2008.

The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration released its 2011 forecast Thursday. It calls for between 12-18 named storms, 6-10 hurricanes and 3-6 major hurricanes (Category 3 or stronger). The average since 1950 is 12 named storms, seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes.

Colorado State University scientists recently predicted 16 named storms, nine hurricanes and five major hurricanes.

Weather Services International, in its latest forecast, predicted there will be 15 named storms, eight hurricanes and four major hurricanes.

While last year was more active, with 19 named storms, 12 hurricanes and five major hurricanes, no hurricanes scored a direct hit on the U.S. for a second consecutive year.

Todd Crawford, chief meteorologist for WSI, explained in a news release why that trend could change: “The lack of U.S. landfalls in 2010 was primarily due to a persistent western Atlantic trough that essentially protected the U.S. East Coast from any direct hits. We do not expect this feature to be in place this year during late summer and fall when most tropical storms occur. Further, the Gulf and Caribbean sea-surface temperatures are particularly warm this year, and we expect more development in these regions and less in the eastern tropical Atlantic.”

Colorado State scientists place the probably of at least one hurricane making landfall in the U.S. at 72%.

Though hurricanes did not cause extensive damage in the U.S. last year, the same was not true elsewhere. The season began with Hurricane Alex, a Category 2 storm that caused severe flooding in Monterrey, Mexico and along the Rio Grande region; and concluded with Hurricane Tomas, which claimed 14 lives in St. Lucia and 20 lives in Haiti, and caused extensive throughout the Caribbean.

The strongest of 2010 was Hurricane Earl, a Category 4 storm that featured sustained gusts of 145 mph, making it the most powerful Atlantic storm since Hurricane Dean in 2007. Earl raged up the Atlantic and skirted the Mid-Atlantic coast, causing immense storm surges along East Coast coastal areas, before making landfall in Nova Scotia, where it left more than 200,000 people temporarily without power.

If forecasters are accurate about predictions for at least one U.S. landfall in 2011, it’ll mark the first time that has happened since Hurricane Ike slammed Texas in 2008. Since then, 18 Atlantic hurricanes have avoided coming ashore on U.S. soil.

— Images show Hurricane Earl last September, and the 2010 Atlantic storm track. Courtesy NASA and NOAA, respectively