US forecasts intense storm season
Washington - US forecasters said on Thursday they expected the Atlantic hurricane season to be more intense than first predicted, raising the number of expected named storms from its pre-season outlook in May.
Gerry Bell, the lead hurricane season forecaster at the National Weather Service, told reporters the region was "primed for high hurricane activity" from August through October, with more intense storms than those seen thus far.
Experts now predict the formation of 14-19 named tropical storms, of which seven to 10 could become hurricanes, during the season which officially runs from June 1 to November 30, Bell said, putting probability at 70%.
Three to five of those hurricanes could be "major" or at least a category three on the five-level Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale, meaning sustained winds of at least 179km/h, he said.
In May, US forecasters had predicted a total of 12-18 named storms, with six to 10 hurricanes.
Bell said there was an 85% chance that 2011 would be an "above normal" season. In May, forecasters put the figure at 65%.
The long-term seasonal average is 11 named storms and six hurricanes, two of them major. There have been five named storms so far this year.
Tropical Storm Emily whipped southern Haiti with strong rains and winds on Thursday, sparking fears of mudslides and flash floods in the impoverished country, still trying to recover from a devastating earthquake last year.
With a total of 12 hurricanes, the 2010 season left hundreds dead in floods and mudslides in Central America and the Caribbean, where they destroyed homes and infrastructure and devastated crops.
Among the worst of the year was Hurricane Tomas, a late-season cyclone that churned over the eastern Caribbean island of St Lucia before battering Haiti and drenching Costa Rica. At least 57 people were killed.