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Be aware during this hurricane season

Since the 2003 hurricane season is predicted to be a busy one, with an above average number of storms and twice as many hurricanes as last year, it’s vital for Florida residents to be prepared.

This year, the season began much earlier than normal when Tropical Storm Ana formed on April 22. The season’s six-month stretch normally runs from June 1 to Nov. 1. This year, William Gray, who has been forecasting hurricanes for 20 years, and his team at Colorado State University predicted 14 storms and eight hurricanes. Three of those are expected to be intense hurricanes, categorized by winds exceeding 111 mph. The long-term average for a year is 9.6 storms, 5.9 hurricanes and 2.3 intense hurricanes.

A storm with winds ranging from 39 to 73 mph becomes a tropical storm and is named by the National Hurricane Center. At 74 mph the tropical storm is upgraded to hurricane levels which are classified based on wind speed on a scale of one to five, with one being the mildest.

It’s also important to know the difference between a watch and a warning. These are issued by the Hurricane Center for both tropical storms and hurricanes. However, the main difference between the two is that a watch means that an area may be threatened within 36 hours, while a warning means the area is expected to be affected within 24 hours.

Both should be taken seriously though, because the average error of a 24-hour hurricane forecast track was 94 miles last year, down 2 percent from last year.

In a Tampa Tribune report, Larry Gispert, director of emergency management for Hillsborough County, said the end of hurricane season is the biggest threat to the Gulf Coast.

During this time, the article stated, storms form in the Caribbean or in the Gulf off the coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. The closer proximity means it can hit the coastline in a few days, giving people less time to prepare for than those that form off Africa’s East Coast.

One change in this year’s forecasts is that the Hurricane Center will now have five-day forecasts. They had been using three-day forecasts since 1964.