by BETTY L. MARTIN
HOUSTON, Sept. 20 (Xinhua) -- There have been few storms in the Gulf of Mexico since the beginning of the summer-through-fall season -- the year's busiest time for area hurricane watchers -- but experts say the region's relatively mild weather is expected to change for the worse as the 2013 season continues in the Atlantic Ocean.
"Our confidence for an above-normal season is still high because the predicted atmospheric and oceanic conditions that are favorable for storm development have materialized,"said Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center, a division of the National Weather Service."Also, two of the four named storms to-date formed in the deep tropical Atlantic, which historically is an indicator of an active season."
Bell cited current conditions now in place that bear similarities to conditions that have produced active Atlantic Ocean hurricane seasons since 1995. These include warmer-than- average Atlantic sea surface temperatures and a stronger West African rainy season, which produces wind patterns that can lead to storm systems morphing into tropical storms and hurricanes.
The NOAA last updated its hurricane prediction report in August, when it provided an outlook calling for a 70 percent chance of an above-normal season.
"Across the Atlantic Basin for the entire season -- June 1 to November 30 -- NOAA's updated seasonal outlook ... projects a 70 percent chance for each of the following ranges: 13 to 19 named storms (top winds of 39 mph or higher), including six to nine hurricanes (top winds of 74 mph or higher), of which three to five could be major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5; winds of at least 111 mph)," the National Centers for Environmental Prediction, also part of the National Weather Service, said in a press release.
"After just having passed the climatological peak September 10, the season to date has produced nine named storms of which two have become hurricane. So far, there have been no major hurricanes, " said Dennis Feltgen, public affairs officer and meteorologist for the NOAA's Communications and External Affairs department. " The number of hurricanes and major hurricanes to date is below normal."
The first hurricane of the season, named Humberto, didn't appear until 5 a.m. on Sept. 11, Feltgen said, and did not reach landfall.
"NOAA issues a seasonal forecast in May and an update in early August. No further updates are planned," Feltgen said. "Anyone living in a hurricane-vulnerable area can be affected regardless of whether the season is quiet or busy. We hope everyone will continue to be vigilant during the final two and a half months of the season. It only takes one storm hitting your area to make it a bad year."
Jeff Lindner, Harris County Flood Control District meteorologist, said the southern U.S. states along the Gulf of Mexico has seen no hurricanes so far in the 2013 hurricane season.
"However, various forecasts call for a busy end to the season with predictions of an additional seven to ten tropical storms and possibly six to eight hurricanes," Lindner said.
Harris county, which has a population of more than 4 million, is the largest county in the state of Texas and the third-largest in the United States. Its seat is Houston, the largest city in Texas.
The Harris County Flood Control District continues to monitor daily tropical weather reports from the National Hurricane Center and have supplies and staff ready to respond to any tropical storm- related threat, Lindner said.
"The Harris County Flood Control District works year-round to reduce flooding risks and damages in Harris County," said Kim Jackson, HCFCD spokesperson. "In addition to widening and deepening channels and building storm water detention basins, we also work with our partner agencies, such as the Harris County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management to educate the public on hurricane preparedness and the importance of staying informed."
Gulf Coast residents have learned the hard way to take hurricane season seriously, especially from Hurricane Ike that swept the Lone Star State in 2008, Lindner said.
"I was on the phone, talking to my mother when we heard what sounded like a big train outside," said Stephanie Adkins, a financial adviser, about when Ike blew through the Houston area.
Adkins said she had prepared for the storm by getting canned goods and bottled water, and by taping the windows of her condominium, but was unprepared for the electricity to be off for 10 days or to have to dodge roads where large oak trees had been felled by Ike's winds.
"We were lucky; we had use of a generator, but a lot of people had to evacuate their homes and go stay in hotels or with family and friends outside the Houston area," she said.
Adkins said she is relieved that there have been no hurricanes that have achieved landfall in the Gulf Coast so far this season, but she remains cautious considering the NOAA update.
"I have a feeling that we're going to get a bad storm this year, so I'm stocking up on canned goods and bottled water again," she said. "I hope it turns out to be all for nothing."