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

June 09, 2010

Forecasters Predict a Very Active Atlantic Hurricane Season

Both government and university researchers are predicting a very active hurricane season in the Atlantic Basin this year, which could both disrupt natural gas and oil production in the Gulf of Mexico and complicate efforts to respond to the ongoing BP oil leak. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) notes that record warm sea surface temperatures are now present in the area where storms often develop, while wind shear, which can literally tear storms apart, is expected to weaken. Combining those conditions with a long-term cyclical trend toward more active hurricane seasons led NOAA to predict 14-23 named tropical storms, of which 8-14 will develop into hurricanes and 3-7 could develop into major hurricanes, of Category 3 or higher. See the NOAA press release.

The team from Colorado State University (CSU) essentially agrees, predicting 18 named storms, 10 hurricanes, and 5 major hurricanes. The CSU team also goes further, predicting a 76% chance of a major hurricane making landfall along the U.S. coastline, with a 51% chance of one hitting the U.S. East Coast and a 51% chance of one hitting the Gulf Coast. Both research teams noted that the El Niño in the eastern Pacific has dissipated, reducing wind shear over the Atlantic basin. The CSU team also warns that tropical Pacific conditions could transition to a weak La Niña by mid-season, creating more favorable conditions for hurricane formation. See the CSU press release and the related report (PDF 2.4 MB). Download Adobe Reader.

Based on the NOAA forecasts, DOE's Energy Information Administration (EIA) is predicting that 26 million barrels of crude oil production and 116 billion cubic feet of natural gas production will be prevented due to tropical storms in the Gulf of Mexico this year. That's the median outcome of EIA's simulation, but there is also a 17%-20% probability that the production outages could be equal to or greater than the outages caused by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008, when the production of 65 million barrels of oil and 400 billion cubic feet of natural gas production was prevented.

Meanwhile, the EIA predicts that a 6-month moratorium on deepwater drilling, imposed by the Interior Department on May 27, will reduce oil production in the Gulf by an average of 26,000 barrels per day in the fourth quarter of this year and roughly 70,000 barrels per day in 2011. Those impacts equal about 28 million barrels of oil, essentially equal to the median outcome of the EIA's tropical storm assessment. Despite those predictions, the EIA has lowered its price forecast for crude oil, expecting spot prices to average $79 per barrel this year and $83 in 2011. Gasoline is now expected to average $2.79 per gallon during the summer driving season, 15 cents lower than last month's forecast. See the EIA's "Short-Term Energy Outlook and the related report, "2010 Outlook for Hurricane-Related Production Outages in the Gulf of Mexico" (PDF 318 KB).