'Historic' hurricane season?

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration releases its annual hurricane outlook this morning, and it would be a shock if it didn't call for a frisky hurricane season.

Already, the outlooks from four major sources are calling for tropical-storm and hurricane numbers that far exceed the normals.

"It's looking more and more like an historic season this year," says Todd Crawford, meteorologist with WSI Corp., which is based in Massachusetts and serves energy interests.

In updating its outlook today,WSI predicted the formation of 18 storms worthy of a name -- those with winds of at least 39 m.p.h. -- with 10 of those becoming hurricanes, packing winds of at least 74 m.p.h.

Typically, about 10 tropical storms and six hurricanes form in the Atlantic Basin, which includes the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea during the season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.

WSI's numbers track tightly with those of other outlooks. Accu-Weather sees 16 to 18 named storms. Tropical Storm Risk, a United Kingdom service, last month predicted 16 named storms, Colorado State University, 15.

Why the unanimity? It appears that conditions in both the tropical Pacific and Atlantic Oceans are favorable this season. 

In the Pacific, the El Nino warming of surface waters has waned and those waters are cooling. During El Nino, strong west-to-east shearing winds can snuff out burgeoning hurricanes in the Atlantic Basin. El Nino evidently had a powerful hand in last year's quiet season. It won't this year.

In the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico, sea-surface temperatures are quite warm, and that could supply more energy for tropical storms.

Hurricanes have been a tremendous drain on the federal treasury. It is an overwhelming source of  disaster payouts and flood-insurance losses.

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