6 hurricanes predicted this season

April 16, 1995|By Knight-Ridder News Service

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- A man who has earned a national reputation for predicting hurricanes has a few numbers for you:

Ten vicious storms will come calling this year along coastlines facing the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea.

Six of them will be hurricanes, with sustained winds of at least 74 mph.

Two will be potential killers, with winds exceeding 100 mph.

They will add up to some of the worst storm activity in five years, said William Gray, the nation's only hurricane prognosticator and a professor at Colorado State University's department of atmospheric sciences.

"I'm calling for an active year," said Mr. Gray, the final speaker Friday at a National Hurricane Conference here, two months bTC before hurricane season begins.

Referring to an array of numbers, charts, graphs and other data -- such as wind patterns, air pressure, rainfall levels in West Africa, and water temperatures across the globe -- Mr. Gray came to some simple conclusions:

Numbers rarely lie. Especially his.

"In the past 11 years I've been doing this, two [season predictions] were busts, two were marginal," he said.

"And the rest were pretty darn good."

In that 11-year period, there were 54 hurricanes in the Atlantic and Caribbean, national figures show; Mr. Gray predicted 57.

In three of those seasons, which begin June 1 and end Nov. 30, he hit the forecasting nail on the head, naming the exact number of hurricanes that occurred.

With a track record like that, Mr. Gray's not hedging much on his latest findings.

They're based, in part, on higher-than-normal rainfall in West Africa, unusually high air-pressure levels just above the Atlantic Ocean, and cooling waters near the Equator -- all conditions, said Mr. Gray, that create a breeding ground for hurricanes and tropical storms.

"It's harder to predict rain," he said.

Most of the hurricanes don't reach the Northeast.

The last hurricane to make a direct hit on the Jersey Shore, for example, came ashore in 1903, according to the National Weather Service.

There have been close brushes with disaster, though.

In September 1985, thousands of Northeast residents fled from Hurricane Gloria's 130-mph winds.

In August 1991, Hurricane Bob also blew past too close for comfort.

Mr. Gray knows all about those storms.

After all, he predicted them.

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