Forecasters Predict 'Well Above Average' Hurricane Activity for 2008 Season

Fasten your seatbelts, it's gonna be a bumpy hurricane season.

That's the latest word from a team of Colorado State University forecasters, who predict the nation's Atlantic coast will experience a hurricane season "well above average."

"Current oceanic and atmospheric trends indicate that we will likely have an active Atlantic basin hurricane season," said William Gray, who heads the university's forecast team.

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The forecasters predict at least 15 named storms will form in the Atlantic basin between June 1 and Nov. 30.

Eight of the storms are predicted to become hurricanes, and of those eight, four are expected to develop into intense or major hurricanes with sustained winds of 111 mph or greater.

"Based on our latest forecast, the probability of a major hurricane making landfall along the U.S. coastline is 69 percent compared with the last-century average of 52 percent," said Phil Klotzbach, a member of the forecast team. "We are calling for a very active hurricane season this year, but not as active as the 2004 and 2005 seasons."

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The 2005 season — the year of Katrina, Rita, Wilma, Dennis and Emily — caused a record $128 billion in damage, with at least 2,280 reported deaths.

The 2004 season was one of the deadliest, with at least 3,100 deaths and more than $50 billion in damage.

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The Colorado State team reported that current conditions in the Atlantic basin are very favorable for an active hurricane season. The current warm sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic are likely to continue in the tropical and North Atlantic during 2008.

Additionally, the team expects neutral or weak La Nina conditions in the tropical Pacific, which, combined with a predicted warm north and tropical Atlantic, is a recipe for enhanced Atlantic basin hurricane activity.

These factors are similar to conditions that occurred during the 1950, 1989, 1999, and 2000 seasons. The average of these four seasons had well above-average activity, and Klotzbach and Gray predict the 2008 season will have similar activity.

The hurricane forecast team's probabilities for a major hurricane making landfall in the U.S. are:

— A 69 percent chance that at least one major hurricane will make landfall on the U.S. coastline (the long-term average probability is 52 percent).

— A 45 percent chance that a major hurricane will make landfall on the East Coast, including the Florida Peninsula (the long-term average is 31 percent).

— A 44 percent chance that a major hurricane will make landfall on the Gulf Coast from the Florida Panhandle west to Brownsville, Texas (the long-term average is 30 percent).

The team also predicted above-average major hurricane landfall risk in the Caribbean.

"The United States was quite fortunate over the last two years in that we had only one hurricane landfall (Humberto, in 2007)," Klotzbach said. "None of the four major hurricanes that formed in 2006 and 2007 made U.S. landfall."

The Colorado State hurricane forecast team cautioned against reading too much into the hurricane seasons of 2004 and 2005.

"The activity of these two years was unusual, but within the natural bounds of hurricane variation," Gray said.