The U.S. Gulf Coast, which is still rebuilding almost two years after Hurricane Katrina, faces a renewed threat of powerful storms this year, private forecaster AccuWeather said on Tuesday.
After a quiet hurricane season last year, Florida and other Gulf Coast states likely will be hit with fewer storms than during the active 2005 season, which spawned the massive hurricanes Katrina and Rita, AccuWeather said.
But the storms forecast for the region will pack a punch.
"We will not get anywhere near the amount of storms that we did in 2005, but the intensity of the storms we do get will be of major concern," Joe Bastardi, chief hurricane forecaster for AccuWeather.com, said in a statement.
British forecasting group Tropical Storm Risk this month also predicted an active storm season. It forecast four "intense" hurricanes during the 2007 season, which runs from June through November.
The predictions spell trouble for areas still recuperating from a chain of hurricanes that slammed the Gulf Coast in 2005.
"The entire region -- including New Orleans and other areas that are still rebuilding after Katrina -- is susceptible to storms," Bastardi said.
Katrina killed about 1,500 people along the Gulf Coast in 2005, displaced tens of thousands more and caused billions of dollars in damage.
Bastardi also said that storms forecast to hit this year could once again disrupt oil and natural gas operations along the Gulf Coast, driving up energy prices for consumers.
"This year's stronger storms are likely to be the kind of disruption that will be felt in wallets and pocketbooks," he said.
U.S. gasoline prices reached a record high of $3.057 per gallon after Katrina, which caused oil refineries to shut down and companies to evacuate workers from oil and gas producing rigs in the Gulf.
After Hurricane Rita hit the region a month after Katrina, as much as 14 percent of U.S. refinery capacity was shut and about 80 percent of crude oil and 66 percent of natural gas production were down for months.
Bastardi also predicted the U.S. Northeast would likely be a target for strong storms for the next 10 years.
"Last year, the Northeast may have dodged a bullet but, unfortunately, you can only be lucky for so long. We are in a pattern similar to that of the late 1930s through the 1940s, when the Northeast was hit by two major storms," he said.
The relative calm of last year's hurricane season, which forecasters had mistakenly predicted would be busy, came on the heels of a record 28 storms and 15 hurricanes in 2005 and only a slightly less furious season in 2004.
Bastardi said that, despite the milder 2006 season, the trend was toward strong hurricanes and tropical storms.
"We are living in a time of climatic hardship," Bastardi said. "We're in a cycle where weather extremes are more the norm and not the exception."