Special Report: Hurricane 2009 Watch

We're coming to the end of a long and intense spring weather season.  Just as one season comes to a close, it's time to get ready for another.  Chief Meteorologist Rich Thomas takes a look ahead to this year's hurricane season.

The start of the 2009 Hurricane Season is only a couple weeks away.  So, what kind of year will it be?

In 2008, a record of 6 named storms made landfall in the U.S.  Some of these land falling storms set other records.  Tropical Storm Fay made landfall four times in Florida and dumped up to 20 inches of rain in spots.  Winds reached Tropical Storm force even in Central Alabama, bringing down many large trees.  Fay produced a total of 81 tornadoes, 15 of those here in Alabama .

"Nobody can tell you for sure what the storms are coming up.  But, we do have some hints whether it's going to be an above average or below average season," explains Dr. Bill Gray a Hurricane Forecaster.  Colorado State forecaster Dr. Bill Gray and Dr. Phillip Klatzbach are suggesting closer to a normal hurricane season with about 12 named storms, 6 of which could become hurricanes, with perhaps 2 major hurricanes. Meanwhile, forecasters at North Carolina State University are projecting that 2-4 storms could potentially come shore long the Gulf coast, with about a 70% chance that at least one of those storms will do so as a hurricane.

So why are the forecasters calling for a somewhat milder year?  There are two main factors: the development of a weak El Nino, causing stronger than normal shear over the Atlantic basin and sea surface water temperatures which are a little cooler than last year.  "We also have waters that have cooled quite a bit in the Tropic Atlantic over the past couple months.  They were well above average last fall, but they've actually cooled below average over the past couple of months.  If those waters remain cooler than normal during the hurricane season it basically means less fuel for developing tropical cyclones," says Dr. Phillip Klozbach a hurricane expert.

While these numbers are down from the very active 2008 season, National Hurricane Center Director, Bill Read says it only teaks one storm.  "For example in 1992, I forecast 7 storms and one major hurricane.  Think what happened back then, Andrew a category 5 in South Florida.  Other seasons we've had where there's been 14 or 15 storms nothing big happened and it was forecasted to be an active season," says Dr. Bill Read, Director National Hurricane Center.

Even though the forecast numbers are lower in 2009, the experts say we are still in a multi-decadal spike in Hurricane activity.  A period began in 1995 and may continue for another 15 years or so.

Even though the season officially starts June first, it doesn't reach its peak until about the middle of August and into early October.

You can monitor storms on the Hurricane Tracker on WSFA.com.  It's an interactive feature where you can follow the storm and zoom into it.  You can add satellite, radar, storm intensity information.  We're updating it now, so look for a new and improved Hurricane Tracker before June 1st.