Colorado State Hurricane Expert to Tell House Subcommittee Hurricanes Pose Country’s ‘greatest Natural Hazard’ in Coming Years

Nationally known hurricane forecaster William M. Gray of Colorado State University will tell members of a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee that intense hurricanes "are our country’s greatest natural hazard" and will increase in coming years.

Gray will testify before the House Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity at 2:30 p.m. EDT in Room 2828, Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C.

Gray, who has forecast the number of seasonal hurricanes since 1984, recently has been predicting a return to conditions that produced relatively large numbers of intense hurricanes (with winds of 111 mph or above) that made landfall along the U.S. East Coast and the Florida peninsula from the 1940s to the 1960s.

From 1944 to 1965, for example, 18 major hurricanes struck the U.S. East Coast and Florida peninsula, while during the quiescent period between 1966 and 1994, there were only four such strikes.

Noting that 1995-1998 was the most active, consecutive four-year period of hurricane activity on record (with 53 named storms, 33 hurricanes and 15 intense hurricanes), Gray said this and other Atlantic climate changes signal a return to an active period last experienced during the mid-1940s to mid-1960s.

"If our interpretation of the current direction of multi-decadal activity proves valid and we are indeed entering a period of intense hurricane activity more typical of the 1940s to mid-1960s, then the cost of U.S. hurricane-spawned destruction will most certainly rise to unprecedented magnitudes," Gray said. "This assessment is based on the large increase in population and property values along the U.S. Southeast Coast since the last active period for major hurricane landfall (mid-1940s to mid-1960s)."

Gray and his research team believe the probability of the number of major storms making landfall in 1999 is about twice that of the average year of the past century for the East Coast and about 145 percent of the 100-year annual average for the Gulf Coast. He shortly plans to issue a hurricane landfall probability prediction scheme for use with his team’s coming seasonal predictions.

"Sadly, the large threat posed by landfalling major hurricanes has yet to be fully recognized, either by the general public or by most U.S. government officials," Gray said. A professor of atmospheric science at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo., Gray said he is "disappointed at the disproportionate diversion of attention and resources to global warming issues that have no relevance to the potential human peril in lives and property loss expected in the next few decades from the increase of major hurricane activity now apparently underway."

The subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity, chaired by Rep. Rick Lazio, is holding a hearing on "Growing Threats of Natural Disaster and the Impact on Homeowners’ Insurance Availability" to determine the nature and root causes of problems affecting the availability and afford ability of insurance.