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Images: It's open season for hurricanes

The NOAA predicts four to six major hurricanes this year. What are the perils and how is FEMA getting ready?
By Bill Detwiler, Contributor on
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Outlook

The 2006 hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to November 30, is officially here. This year the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center predicts an 80 percent chance of an above-normal storm season--with eight to 10 hurricanes and four to six major storms. The 2005 season produced a record 15 hurricanes and seven major storms.

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Conditions

Most of the conditions that contribute to the formation of hurricanes are menacing: considerably warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures, lower wind shear, reduced sea level pressure, and an active African easterly jet stream.

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Sea temperature

Hurricanes can only develop when sea temperatures are above 82 degrees Fahrenheit. This Aug. 28, 2006, image shows the temperatures of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico that were above 82 degrees Fahrenheit (orange-red) when Hurricane Katrina struck. The path of Katrina and its storm severity levels are indicated in black. The other lines indicate the tracks of other 2006 hurricanes.

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Flooding

What are the major hazards of a hurricane? First is the storm surge. A storm, coupled with normal tides, can increase the water level by as much as 15 feet. Since most of the populated Atlantic and Gulf coastlines are 10 feet above sea level (not to mention New Orleans), major flooding can occur.

New Orleans was under water in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

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High winds

Hurricanes are measured by their wind velocity, according to the Saffire-Simpson Hurricance Scale. A Category 1 Hurricane has winds of at least 75 mph, while a Category 5 Hurricane has winds of 156 mph and up.

Before it headed toward Louisiana, Katrina paid a wet, windy visit to Florida. One person trying to drive through the storm in Fort Lauderdale called it "easily the most harrowing yet exciting 10 minutes of my life."

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Inland flooding

One of the most deadly effects of a hurricane is inland flooding. More than half the deaths from hurricanes were attributed to floods. The intense rains from Hurricane Floyd in 1999 resulted in 50 drownings. Pictured is the aftermath of Hurricane Allison, which hit the Houston area in 2001.

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Tornadoes

More than half of hurricanes that hit land produce at least one tornado. There's no way to predict which storms will spawn tornadoes or where they will touch down, but new Doppler radar systems can give some warning. One clue: If you see hail or lighting, you're probably safe.

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FEMA prepares

After receiving storms of criticism over its response to Hurricane Katrina, FEMA is bracing itself to respond to new hurricane emergencies. A worker in the FEMA Logistics Center warehouse in Ft. Worth, Tex. takes inventory with a bar code scanner. This enables GPS tracking of all of the supplies.

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Generators

Generators are ready for deployment from the FEMA Logistics Center warehouse in Ft. Worth, Tex. during disasters.

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Preparing for the worst

How do you prepare for the hurricane season? One way is to build a safer home. A company called Dome Technology is touting its semispherical designs as the way to avoid the ravages of high-speed winds.

If you live near the Atlantic Coast or Gulf Coast, take heed. The National Hurricane Center has some important safety tips to follow before a major storm strikes.

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