DENVER -- A team of top hurricane researchers lowered its 2006 forecast for Atlantic hurricanes for the second time in a month yesterday, predicting a slightly below-average season with five hurricanes instead of seven.
Two of the hurricanes will be intense, according to the team headed by forecaster William Gray at Colorado State University.
His team predicted a 59 percent likelihood that a hurricane would hit the US coastline in September, and a 35 percent chance of an intense hurricane. For October, the forecasters said there was a 14 percent chance a hurricane would strike the coast.
It was the second time the team had downgraded its expectations in the span of a month. Last spring, Gray's team predicted 17 named storms would form in the Atlantic basin during the June-through-November hurricane season. Team members lowered that to 15 in early August, and then to 13 in their latest forecast.
``Our August forecast was very high. It stunk," said team member Philip Klotzbach. ``We didn't have the major formations we expected. There was a surprising amount of dry air. It choked them off."
As of yesterday, five named storms had formed, including Ernesto, which briefly became the season's first hurricane last week and was moving north up the East Coast yesterday as a tropical depression.
The average storm count for the Atlantic basin is 9.6 named storms, 5.9 hurricanes, and 2.3 intense hurricanes per year. Klotzbach identified several factors for the changed forecast, including higher levels of West African dust over the Atlantic and a warmer eastern equatorial Pacific indicating a potential El Niño event this fall.
The National Hurricane Center also has lowered its Atlantic storms forecast since spring. In May, it predicted 13 to 16 named storms and eight to 10 hurricanes, with as many as six major ones. In early August, the hurricane center revised that to 12 to 15 named storms and seven to nine hurricanes.