This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.

August 19, 2009

Hurricane Season Off to Late Start, Expected to be Below Normal

The remnants of Tropical Storm Ana are now soaking the Florida peninsula, while Hurricane Bill is gaining strength over the Atlantic Ocean, marking the first two named storms of the current Atlantic hurricane season. Although the season officially began on June 1, storms were not been able to organize and gain strength until August 15, when Tropical Storm Ana became the first named storm of the season. Tropical Storm Bill followed suit the same day and grew to become Hurricane Bill on the morning of August 17, making it the first Atlantic hurricane of the season. And Tropical Storm Claudette formed in the Gulf of Mexico on August 16, coming ashore on the Florida Panhandle in the wee hours of the morning of August 17 and quickly dissipating, marking the first tropical storm landfall of the season. Hurricane Bill was a strong Category 2 hurricane on August 18 and was expected to increase to a Category 3 hurricane on August 19. It is not currently expected to make landfall on the U.S. coastline, but it could impact the Bermuda Islands by this weekend. See the archives of notices from the National Hurricane Center on former Tropical Storm Ana, Hurricane Bill, and former Tropical Storm Claudette.

The late start of the hurricane season and unfavorable conditions for tropical storm formation have led the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to lower its forecast for the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season. NOAA's Climate Prediction Center now predicts only a 50% probability of a near-normal season, which would include 11 named storms, six of which become hurricanes, with two of those growing to Category 3 or greater. NOAA predicts a 40% probability of a below-normal season and a 10% probability of an above-normal season. The NOAA forecasters say there is a 70% chance of 7-11 named storms, of which 3-6 become hurricanes and only two grow to Category 3 or greater. If that forecast proves correct, the outlook is good for the United States, as the first Category 3 hurricane of the year appears likely to miss the mainland. NOAA lowered its forecast in part because of an ongoing El Niño event. El Niños tend to generate shear winds over the Atlantic Ocean, disrupting tropical storm formation. See the NOAA press release.

Hurricane forecasts are relevant to energy, of course, because of the potential for storms to disrupt oil and natural gas production in the Gulf of Mexico, as happened last year with Hurricanes Gustav and Ike. Based on the previous NOAA forecast, which called for a near-normal hurricane season, DOE's Energy Information Administration (EIA) expected 4.5 million barrels of crude oil production and 36 billion cubic feet of natural gas production to be unavailable due to hurricane activity in the Gulf. The lower forecast lessens that projected impact. Even with the previous higher forecast, the EIA found only a 3%-4% probability that energy impacts would be as great as last year, when Hurricanes Gustav and Ike prohibited the production of 60 million barrels of crude oil and 335 billion cubic feet of natural gas in the Gulf of Mexico. See the EIA report.