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Hurricane forecast downgraded because of El Nino



By Sherry Koonce

The News staff writer

Entergy personnel said Thursday they are prepared for another hurricane. The better news is the electric utility company may not be put to the test this year.

Because of a El Nino system possibly forming a hurricane forecasters have downgraded earlier hurricane predictions.

Forecasters say a warmer El Nino system predicted to develop in the Pacific Ocean this summer likely will decrease the number of hurricanes forming in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea.

Chris Hebert, lead hurricane meteorologist with ImpactWeather, Inc., a company contracted by Entergy, Inc. to provide severe weather data, predicted 10 named storms during the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season.

Hebert was one of several speakers Thursday at a storm school sponsored by Entergy.

He predicted four of the 10 storms could intensify into hurricanes. Of those, two could be major.

“The Gulf of Mexico may see two to three named storms, the East Coast could have one named storm or one close call, and the Caribbean Sea one to two,” Hebert said.

Hebert said August and September will see a burst of activity, but it will be short-lived.

Typically, he said, after a very active hurricane year areas that were hit hard tend to have a quite year.

Previously, national forecasters had predicted from nine to 14 named storms with at least two major storms.

Hebert said when Atlantic water temperatures are below normal, as is evidenced this year, there is less heat for a hurricane to intensify.

Vernon Pierce, Entergy Texas, Inc., customer service director, said because of Hurricanes Rita and Ike, the company has developed a reputation for being storm-ready.

During Ike, 99 percent of the utility’s Texas customers — 392,000 out of the 395,000 — lost power. The number is the most in the company’s history, Pierce said.

Ray Mullican, Entergy Texas, Inc. transmission lines manager, said one of the biggest challenges was to move thousands of people into the area to help restore electrical power.

Mullican said it was important that Southeast Texans make their own hurricane preparations.

He cautioned those with generators to test them prior to the storm and make sure their gasoline is not old. Always remember, he said, to not use generators indoors even if afraid they might be stolen.

“No one wants the power on more than Entergy employees, but safety trumps speed,” Mullican said.

skoonce@panews.com