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STOP #29

Orlando, FLA — Hurricane Rising

June 7, 2006

More than 2,000 experts and emergency management officials gathered in Orlando, Florida in May to discuss this year's forecast. After the 2005 hurricane season served up a record 28 tropical storms, including the Category 5 twins Katrina and Rita that ravaged the Gulf Coast, one would hope that Mother Nature would cut us a break. But with global warming fueling warmer oceans-the heat pumps of hurricanes-the outlook for 2006 hurricane season, which started June 1st, could spell disaster for Florida and other Eastern and Gulf Coast states.

While hurricanes are natural phenomena, they are increasingly becoming more intense with devastating impacts on coastal communities. This year, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued its annual forecast for the 2006 hurricane season, predicting 13-16 tropical storms, 4-6 of which are likely to be major hurricanes of Category 3 strength or higher. This is two-to-three times the 50-year average for such intense hurricanes.

More and more scientists are fingering global warming as the culprit. Last year researchers at Georgia Tech and the National Center for Atmospheric Research showed that since 1990 Category 4 and 5 hurricanes worldwide have nearly doubled at a time when sea surface temperatures have risen about a degree. Researchers at MIT and Purdue University have also concluded that warmer ocean temperatures are responsible for the surge in hurricane intensity.

With over 1200 miles of coast, no state is more vulnerable to this increase in hurricane intensity than Florida. While the state escaped the worst of the storms that slammed into the Louisiana and Mississippi, residents of Florida suffered the onslaught of four major hurricanes in 2004. This risk has caused many insurers to abandon the state as insured losses mount. Since Hurricane Andrew in 1992, the state has had to step in as a back-stop to help primary insurers deal with mega-catastrophes.

Last year's terrible disaster in New Orleans and communities across the Gulf was a wake up call to how devastating natural disasters can be. Where hurricanes make land fall may still be a roll of the dice, but in light of the science linking global warming with more intense hurricanes, NOAA's forecast this year should put us all on high alert.