Hurricane consensus

As everything else, the tropical-storm season is off to an early start, but that may be about as meaningful to the rest of the season as the snows of Halloween were to winter.

That was the message this morning from the National Oceanic and Atmopsheric Administration, which released its annual hurricane outlook for the Atlantic Basin.

Concurring with outlooks released by Colorado State University, Accu-Weather Inc., and WSI Corp., NOAA sees a near normal season in the basin, which includes the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico.

NOAA sees 9 to 15 storms worthy of a name, with winds of at least 39 m.p.h., with 4 to 8 of those becoming hurricanes, with winds of 74 m.p.h. or greater. Of those, one to three will become "major" -- peak winds of 111 m.p.h. or more.

On average during the season, which runs officially from June 1 to Nov. 30, 12 named storms develop, six of those hurriances, and three majors.

Although the government numbers cover a wider range of possibilities, they are very much in the ballpark with other forecasts.

Here's a quick summary:

Colorado State -- 10 names storms, 4r hurricanes, 2 majors.

Accu-Weather -- 12; 5, and 2.

WSI -- 11; 6, and 2.

In releasing its forecast, NOAA noted that the basin remains in an "active" hurricane period that got under way in 1995 and now enters its 18th season. It is uncertain how long that will last.

The wild card is what happens in the tropical Pacific. If an El Nino developes, an anomalous warming, that could generate powerful upper-air winds from the west that would shear off incipient storms in the Atlantic.

On the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew, no one in Florida would complain.