Miami With two months left in the Atlantic hurricane season, forecasters warn that another devastating storm could hit the U.S. this year. And some of the conditions that sent Hurricanes Katrina and Rita slamming into the Gulf Coast appear to still be in place.
This hurricane season is already tied for the second-busiest since record-keeping began in 1851. Katrina is the deadliest U.S. hurricane since 1928, with more than 1,100 deaths blamed on the storm. It is also expected to be the costliest U.S. hurricane ever.
Active hurricane years tend to have busy Octobers, so people should not let their guard down, said Stan Goldenberg, a meteorologist with the federal Hurricane Research Division.
"Not just the first day of October. We're talking well into October or even the end," he said. The hurricane season runs through November.
Colorado State University forecasters expect one more hurricane this season and said it could strengthen into a major one with winds of at least 111 mph. The chance of a major hurricane hitting the U.S. in October is 15 percent, William Gray and Philip J. Klotzbach said.
The federal government's forecast calls for up to one more hurricane, which could become a major one.
"For this year, one of the real hotspots as far as preferred steering paths has been into the Gulf of Mexico, from Pensacola to the Texas border. It would not surprise me at all to see another trek toward that region," Goldenberg said.
Klotzbach and Chris Landsea, a research meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center, said that as October goes on, the northern Gulf Coast is a much less likely target for a hurricane.
"Late in the season, the jet stream starts moving south in connection with fall and cooler temperatures. Because of that, air goes west to east and hurricanes are steered away from the northern Gulf," Landsea said.
Typically, October means Florida and the western Caribbean are more in danger of a hurricane strike, he said. Tropical Storm Tammy is an example of that - it formed Wednesday just off Florida's east coast.
Klotzbach would not rule out the possibility of another hurricane hitting the Gulf Coast, saying "weird things have been happening this year."
Sea surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic are still well above the 80 degrees Fahrenheit needed for hurricanes to form. In much of the Caribbean and the western part of the Gulf of Mexico, temperatures are at least a degree above normal.
There have been 19 named storms so far this year, with 10 hurricanes and five major ones. The record for the most tropical storms and hurricanes is 21 in 1933. The long-term historical average for a season is 10 tropical storms, six hurricanes and two or three major ones.
Since 1995, the Atlantic has had more hurricanes than normal. Last year, Florida was hit by four hurricanes. Forecasters say this abnormally active period could last for at least another decade, and up to 40 or 50 years total.
Some blame the long-term rise on global warming, but others say it is due to a natural cycle.