Thursday, May 25, 2006
Experts warn of New England hurricane
Amid a flurry of new data showing a dramatic increase in the water temperatures in the north Atlantic ocean, forecasters Monday said something of a perfect storm is developing, and raised the specter that a major hurricane will threaten New England this summer.
"The chances of a hurricane hitting the East Coast are exceptionally high," said Ken Reeves, the director of forecast operations at AccuWeather in State College, Pa.
Conditions are prime for a major tropical system to race up the Eastern Seaboard, maintaining its strength when it encounters the warm waters off the Middle Atlantic coast, he said. A buoy 200 miles off the New Jersey coast recorded a water temperature of 70 degrees in mid-April. It's typically 42 degrees at that time.
"It's only a matter of time before a major landfall happens in New England," Reeves said. "It could be this year."
Though Hurricane Gloria was the last storm to directly hit the region when it struck Connecticut as a robust Category 2 storm in September 1985, "The Long Island Express" storm in 1938 devastated Danbury with flooding and wind damage.
A group of longtime residents discussed memories of the great storm Monday at the Danbury Senior Center.
Granville Varian, 90, was working at Mallory's hat shop on Rose Street when the storm hit. He drove his Oldsmobile to Main Street to pick up his wife.
"I had to drive up on the sidewalk to get her," Varian said. "The roads were all dirt and they all washed out."
It took the couple an hour and half to make the trip to their house on Middle River Road, where he still lives. The trip usually takes 15 minutes.
The factory where Varian worked flooded and closed for a week.
C. Rodney Dow was working with his brother picking apples at a farm in Milford, Mass., when the great storm struck.
"Chickens were flying through the air," said Dow, 86, of Danbury. The squawking foul were not the only objects floating through the sky. Buildings also were uplifted by fierce winds, he said.
The Northeast ranks behind only the Carolinas as the region that it is most likely to be hit this year, forecasters said.
The heightened risk for Connecticut begins with the peak of the season in mid-August and will last until early October, Reeves said.
The outlook for Connecticut came as the National Weather Service predicted there would be fewer named tropical systems this year than last.
An above-normal tropical storm season could produce between four and six major hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico this year, but conditions don't appear ripe for a repeat of 2005's record activity, the National Hurricane Center predicted Monday.
There will be up to 16 named storms, the center predicted, which would be significantly less than last year's record 28. Still, people in coastal regions should prepare for the possibility of major storms, said Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center.
"One hurricane hitting where you live is enough to make it a bad season," Mayfield said.
Should a storm hit Danbury, residents can expect to contend with rain and high winds. The storm surge would impact residents along the coast.
Emergency operations officials plan to conduct a drill next month in Hartford, where they will simulate the response to a category 3 storm.
Connecticut emergency management officials said they recently updated the state's storm evacuation plan.
AccuWeather's prediction that a major storm would likely hit New England this year drew criticism Monday from experts who said that it is difficult, if not impossible, to predict where a hurricane will strike.
"Will this year be the one? No one really knows," said Bill Jacquemin, a meteorologist at the Connecticut Weather Center in Danbury.
Reeves defended his forecast, saying critics "over-rely on computer models." He and his team look at patterns that indicate where a storm might hit, and they correctly predicted that the Gulf Coast would be a focus of activity last year, he said.
"There is no mystery about them."