There's more potential bad news for residents of the Gulf coast this summer: In addition to the ever-spreading oil spill, the 2010 hurricane season looks to be an unusually active one.
The season should particularly be more eventful than last year's, which saw few hurricanes.
Hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico begins on June 1 and lasts until Nov. 30, with August and September typically being the most active months.
While the 2009 hurricane season was much tamer than many in recent years, with only three hurricanes developing in the Atlantic, the 2010 season could see more than three times as many, hurricane forecasters have projected.
"It looks like it will be a very busy season, and it only takes one hurricane making landfall to have devastating effects," said Tim LaRow, a hurricane researcher at Florida State University in Tallahassee. "The predicted high number of tropical systems means there is an increased chance that the eastern United States or Gulf Coast will see a landfall this year."
LaRow and his colleagues used a new computer model just unveiled last year to project how the 2010 hurricane season was likely to shake out. The model predicts that there will be 17 named storms (or those that reach Tropical Storm status with winds of at least 39 mph (63 kph) this season, with 10 of those developing further into hurricanes, which have winds of at least 74 mph (119 kph).
An average hurricane season, in comparison, has 11 tropical storms with six of them becoming hurricanes.
The model's 2009 forecast, its first, was on target: It predicted a below-average season, with a mean of eight named storms with four of them developing into hurricanes. There were nine named storms with three that became hurricanes.
One of the most significant storms of the 2009 season was Hurricane Bill. Bill was the season's strongest hurricane and an unusually large storm with maximum sustained winds of 135 mph. Hurricane Bill caused moderate coastal damage across the eastern United States before brushing Nova Scotia and making landfall in Newfoundland.
Two systems, Claudette and Ida, brought tropical storm force winds to the U.S. mainland. For the first time in three years, no hurricanes hit the U.S. The season ended with Tropical Storm Ida.
All of these storms and the rest from 2009 were captured by NASA Earth-boserving satellites and stitched together by the space agency into a movie showing the entire hurricane season from Ana to Ida. In the movie, you can see all of those storms and their movements from birth to death.
Implications for oil spill
An active 2010 hurricane season could have particularly adverse effects in the Gulf this year because of the massive oil spill from the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig.
How the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico will affect the development of tropical storms this year is a question that scientists are still trying to figure out, LaRow said.
Oil on the ocean's surface can prevent water from evaporating into the atmosphere, which is how the surface cools. This could lead to local hot patches of water, and hotter waters have more potential to fuel hurricanes.
"The oil spill will probably have little influence on the hurricane season, but we don't know for sure since this spill is unprecedented," he said. "It's uncertain how exactly the atmospheric and oceanic conditions might change if the spill continues to grow."