El Nino means 6, not 8, hurricanes this year
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- A milder Atlantic hurricane season is expected this year due to the arrival of El Nino, a global weather anomaly already wreaking havoc in Australia, U.S. government meteorologists said Thursday.
The weather phenomenon, blamed for vicious droughts and floods, has claimed a parched Australia as its first victim and is fast approaching Southeast Asia.
El Nino's reappearance in the United States will reduce the number of estimated Atlantic hurricanes from eight to six this year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
NOAA said the U.S. would begin to feel El Nino's impact sometime in September.
NOAA revised its outlook for the 2002 Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to November 30, to include between seven and 10 tropical storms with four to six developing into hurricanes.
Previously, the agency forecast up to 13 tropical storms and eight hurricanes.
"As El Nino matures, it is expected to first impact the Atlantic hurricane season in late September and October, then U.S. temperatures and precipitation in the fall and winter," said Jim Laver, director of NOAA's Climate Prediction Center.
El Nino, "boy child" in Spanish, is an above-average warming of water in the eastern Pacific that occurs every four to five years and distorts wind and rainfall patterns.
Weather experts said they expect drought to continue in Indonesia and eastern Australia for the next several months, while torrential storms will drench southeastern South America through October.
NOAA officially announced El Nino's arrival last month. The agency forecast it would be much milder than the extraordinary 1997-98 episode which claimed 24,000 lives.
Despite the weaker El Nino, forecasters warned residents along the East and Gulf Coast states to prepare themselves.
"We want people to understand that it only takes one hurricane, or tropical storm, to bring death and destruction," Laver said.
In 1992, Hurricane Andrew was the only major storm in a mild season, but carried 175 mph (282 kph) winds and caused more than $25 billion damage when it hit southern Florida.
Three weak tropical storms have already formed in the Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico this year.
El Nino was first reported by Latin American fisherman in the 19th century and was named after the Christ child because it was usually seen in Pacific waters around Christmas.
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