WASHINGTON – The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warned a Senate committee Wednesday that North America is the most treacherous continent for hurricane activity.
“The United States has more severe weather than any country in the world,” said Louis Uccellini,director of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration's National Weather Service.
He was speaking to the Commerce,Justice,Science and Related Agencies Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee as it discussed this year's hurricane season.
“NOAA's prediction for the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season is for 13 to 16 tropical storms,with eight to 10 becoming hurricanes,of which four to six could become major hurricanes,” Conrad D. Lautenbacher Jr.,NOAA administrator,said.
“We are predicting an 80 percent likelihood of an above-average number of storms in the Atlantic Basin,” Lautenbacher said.
The hurricane season began June 1 and continues through November 30,with the most intense hurricane activity likely to take place from mid-August to late October.
A major hurricane is a Category 3 or higher with winds that are greater than 110 miles per hour. Last year's Hurricane Katrina was initially a Category 5,but was downgraded to a Category 4 when it hit land.
Sen. Richard Shelby,R-Ala.,asked what the strengths and weaknesses of the United States in weather predictions.
“We have a very good system,good satellite coverage,good large-scale modeling,” Lautenbacher replied. “It's hard to point to any weaknesses. I would like to see more comprehensive earth-observing systems.”
After Katrina and the record number of hurricanes last year,Lautenbacher said the Gulf Coast states understand the importance of being prepared.
“I think there is new recognition,” Lautenbacher said. “I don't want to be complacent … the fact is the awareness is higher.”
Despite efforts to correctly predict hurricanes,Lautenbacher said science can go only so far.
“No one can tell us reliably months in advance when or where hurricanes are going to strike,” Lautenbacher said.
Lautenbacher said a lot of work takes place during the hurricane off season to prepare for hurricanes,including a NOAA-led a hurricane awareness tour along the Gulf Coast.
“The tour helped raise awareness about the potential effects from a hurricane's landfall” with the Federal Emergency Management Agency,local governments,emergency managers,schools,the public and the media,Lautenbacher said.
Even with advances in hurricane predictions,Lautenbacher said many people are in danger's way.
‘The bottom line is that all coastal states and territories at risk,” Lautenbacher said. “Everyone along the coast must be prepared well in advance to protect their lives and property in the event of a hurricane.”