Air Force forecasters gear up for hurricane season

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Mike Meares
  • 96th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
National Hurricane Center officials predict the Atlantic hurricane season, which began June 1 and continues through Nov. 30, to have a 75 percent chance of being an "above average" season.

NHC forecasters predict the 2007 Atlantic hurricane season will have 13 to 17 named storms, of which seven to 10 could become hurricanes and three to five of these could become Category 3 or higher major hurricanes.

This contrasts with an "average" Atlantic hurricane season, which brings 11 named storms, with six becoming hurricanes, including two major hurricanes. A major storm has sustained winds that exceed 111 mph.

That advisory is being taken seriously by Eglin Air Force Base's weather forecasters.

"They are the experts," said Lt. Col. Julie Noto, the 46th Weather Squadron commander. "We look at their predictions and tailor them to our local situation."

The 46th WS forecasters monitor local weather conditions year round to keep base leadership informed regarding atmospheric conditions that could impact Air Force operations. This watch becomes particularly important during the six-month hurricane season because of the severe weather conditions generated by a hurricane and the challenges associated with tracking the unpredictable paths of these storms.

"There are a lot of things that go into the formation of a tropical storm and the damage it may cause," said Capt. Chris Chase, the 46th WS operations weather flight commander. "We analyze the information and provide it to senior base leadership for them to make an educated decision."

A hurricane is a severe tropical storm that forms in the southern Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico or in the eastern Pacific Ocean. Hurricanes need warm tropical oceans, moisture and light winds above them. If the right conditions last long enough, a hurricane can form producing violent winds, large waves, and torrential rains.

While each season's hurricane forecast varies, people who live near a coast should prepare themselves for hurricane season regardless of the forecast's severity.

"While last year was slightly below average, don't focus on the numbers that are being (forecasted)," Colonel Noto said. "It only takes one."

"We don't want to scare people," Captain Chase said. "That doesn't mean there is going to be that one storm. Eighty hurricanes could form this season and never touch land."

Preparation is important due to a hurricane's destructive nature. A hurricane's strong winds, heavy rainfall, tornadoes and storm surge can wreak havoc in coastal areas and further inland. The combination of the elements is the recipe for extreme damage to buildings, trees and cars.

The sustained winds associated with a hurricane can blow out glass windows, uproot trees, take out power lines and remove roofs from houses. Wind speeds of more than 59 mph (50 knots) are likely to cause damage. A tropical storm typically has sustained winds between 39 and 73 mph, while a hurricane has sustained winds more than 73 mph. These winds are strongest near the storm's center or "eye."

If high winds and the possibility of a tornado wasn't enough, heavy rain and flooding are also serious threats, even in weaker storms. A weak, slow moving tropical storm can produce 10 to 15 inches of rain. In the past 30 years, 60 percent of hurricane deaths were due to flooding. Heavy rains can start many hours before a storm hits land.

Storm surge is another hazard associated with hurricanes that impacts people living near bodies of water. A storm surge occurs when strong winds push the ocean to form a wall of water. The storm surge may combine with astronomical tides to produce an even higher water level. A strong storm can easily raise the water level 15 feet above normal. In 1969, Hurricane Camille produced a 25-foot surge on the Mississippi coast.

The 46th WS will be looking to the tropics for the next storm to form. There are going to keep their eyes on Andrea, Barry, Chantal, Dean, Erin, Felix, Gabrielle, Humberto, Ingrid, Jerry, Karen, Lorenzo, Melissa, Noel, Olga, Pablo, Rebekah, Sebastien, Tanya, Van and Wendy throughout the 2007 hurricane season.