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Forecasters: Hurricane season is likely to get busier

After a quiet July, hurricane season has cranked up in August, with a new depression expected to become Gordon as early as Friday. Federal forecasters predicted Thursday that this season could be busier than the slow one predicted several months ago.

On the positive side, the experts still give 50-50 odds that the tropics will produce a normal or near-normal number of tropical storms and hurricanes, compared to the hyperactive seasons that have marked the last decade. Under a “normal” scenario, it’s likely there will be another six to 11 named storms before the season officially ends on Nov. 30.

Of those, forecasters said five to eight could become hurricanes, including two to three growing into major storms of Category 3 or higher. There is no predicting where any future storm might wind up going.

“We have a long way to go until the end of the season, and we shouldn’t let our guard down,” said Laura Furgione, acting director of the National Weather Service.

The mid-season forecast update, which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center produces annually, is slightly increased from an initial outlook issued in May.

Gerry Bell, the center’s lead seasonal hurricane forecaster, said competing atmospheric conditions will influence the remaining season. Two big factors could fuel potential formation: warmer than normal Atlantic Ocean temperatures and favorable wind patterns. But forecasters also expect the global El Niño pattern to lock in this month or next, a condition that produces storm-weakening wind shear.

The timing of El Niño will dictate how active the tropics will be, Bell said, but the impact is expected to be felt in the later part of the season. August and September have historically been the busiest months.

This season began with an unusual event — two named storms, Alberto and Beryl, forming before the official start of the season on June 1. That has happened only two other times since the 1880s. Though July produced no storms, the first week of August churned out two. Hurricane Ernesto has been downgraded to a tropical storm since making landfall this week on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Short-lived Tropical Storm Florence has since dissolved into a broad tropical wave.

The National Hurricane Center is also watching a depression that formed Thursday about 1,100 miles east of the Windward Islands, now expected to become Tropical Storm Gordon in a day or so. The initial track is forecast to follow a path similar to Ernesto. It could cross the Windwards late Saturday and near the island of Hispaniola by Monday.