An active hurricane season could make life even more difficult for earthquake-battered Haitians and Gulf coast residents still dealing with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster.
Hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30 in the Atlantic and from May 15 to Nov. 30 for the Eastern Pacific. The first hurricane of the Pacific season, Hurricane Celia, formed over the weekend but was not projected to make significant landfall.
According to experts, there are a few key things to watch for this season:
More intense storms expected | The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration projects with a 70 percent probability that there will be 14 to 23 storms given names, which happens when winds reach 29 mph. Of those, eight to 15 could be hurricanes, and three to seven could be major, with winds of at least 111 mph.
An average six-month season sees 11 named storms, six of which become hurricanes, two of them major.
Hurricane likely to make U.S. landfall | Researchers at Colorado State University say the probability of a major hurricane making landfall along the U.S. coastline this season is 69 percent, compared with a 52 percent average from the last century.
There is a 44 percent chance that a major hurricane will make landfall on the Gulf Coast, which is struggling with the ongoing oil leak disaster.
“The water temperatures are very warm right now … and since hurricanes live off warm ocean water that means there is more fuel for them to live off of and intensify,” said Phil Klotzbach, lead forecaster on the CSU Hurricane Forecast Team.
Klotzbach said El Nino conditions, which create a lot of wind sheer and disrupt storms, kept the 2009 hurricane season activity low but those conditions have neutralized.
Gulf oil could spread faster | A hurricane or tropical storm could delay Gulf oil cleanup efforts and increase the impact on coastlines.
“If you get a storm tracking to the west of the oil … it could push the oil further inland and make a real mess,” Klotzbach said. “That is our primary concern.”
Gregory Stone, director of the Coastal Studies Institute at Louisiana State University, agreed with the prognosis.
“There is no question in my mind, given a storm surge, that tributaries would funnel that water laden with oil further inland than a non-tropical storm situation,” Stone said.
The storm could also generate waves and currents that would break up the spill, Stone said, meaning the oil would spread over a much larger area. The group is trying to model how a storm might redistribute the oil in the Gulf.
Many Haitians vulnerable | Haiti is no stranger to hurricanes — a 2008 storm killed 76 people there — but after the January earthquake left an estimated 1.5 million people homeless, Haitians are particularly vulnerable this hurricane season.
“Hundreds of thousands are still living in these spontaneous camps, under tarps and tents, nothing like hurricane-proof shelters,” said Julie Sell, an American Red Cross spokeswoman in Haiti.
She called hurricane season “a very big concern” especially since many of those tent camps are on hillsides that could be at risk of landslides or are in areas that could easily flood.
The group is employing Haitians to dig ditches through some camps to help divert water in the case of heavy storms or hurricanes.
“We are working to move people into more durable shelter, but that is very complicated,” said Sell because there is little land available for construction. “Haiti has a long history of being hit by devastating storms, but it looks like things could be bad.”