House devastated by flooding on Hispaniola
Bad weather has already hit some parts of the Caribbean

Well-known storm researcher William Gray of Colorado State University has issued his final pre-season forecast of a busier than average season.

He predicts there will be 14 named storms, eight of which will become hurricanes.

Of the eight anticipated hurricanes, three will become intense, with winds over 111 mph (178 kph) forecast.

“Regardless of how active the 2004 hurricane season is, a finite probability always exists that one or more hurricanes may strike along the US coastline or the Caribbean Basin and do much damage,” Mr Gray said.

His forecast is based on factors such as temperature and salinity changes that affect seawater density and in turn change the way the oceans circulate, enhancing hurricane activity in the Atlantic basin.

He cited low sea-pressure in the Caribbean as one of those factors.

Early rains

The traditional rainy season that accompanies the hurricane season may have come early this year with some Caribbean countries experiencing higher than average rainfall.

In Haiti and the Dominican Republic itself, relief agencies struggling to get aid into areas ravaged by floods were being hampered by more bad weather.

Forecasters are warning of thunderstorms and further heavy rains and urging people to try to get to higher ground.

This year’s storm names are:

Alex, Bonnie, Charley, Danielle, Earl, Frances, Gaston, Hermine, Ivan, Jeanne, Karl, Lisa, Matthew, Nicole, Otto, Paula, Richard, Shary, Tomas, Virginie and Walter.

John Bevan, a senior humanitarian officer for the United Nations in Port-au-Prince, said the impact of the floods do not bode well for Haiti, the poorest in the western hemisphere.

“You have to remember that this wasn’t even a tropical storm, this was heavy rain and look at the damage that has been caused,” he said. “We are just going into the cyclone period and everybody is extremely worried about what’s going to happen over the next (few) months.”

The cost

Haiti is a special case but floods, storms and hurricanes have cost the Caricom area more than US$3.4 (b) billion in damage since 2000, according to CDERA, the Caribbean Disaster and Emergency Response Agency.

Gray’s forecast for the season that runs from 1 June to 30 November was unchanged from his last forecast on 2 April, but added one more named storm than his team’s initial forecast in December.

Circular tropical weather systems are given names when sustained winds reach 39 mph (63 kph) and become hurricanes when they hit 74 mph (119 kph).

The long-term average for the Atlantic-Caribbean season is 9.6 named storms, with 5.9 of those reaching hurricane strength and 2.3 of those becoming intense.

Busy season

“Global predictors obtained and analysed through this point in May consistently point to the 2004 Atlantic basin hurricane season being an active one,” Mr Gray said.

“We expect tropical cyclone activity to be well above average with about 145% of the average seasonal activity.”

US Government forecasters with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also predicted a busier-than-average hurricane season this year.

Their forecast, issued earlier this month, anticipated 12 to 15 tropical storms, with six to eight of those becoming hurricanes, and two to four becoming major hurricanes.