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Forecasts for the 2012 hurricane season predict an average number of Atlantic storms, but a UVA climatologist says we’re in for an uptick in activity soon. (Photo: Zuma Press/zumapress.com)

’Tis the season: Risk of hurricanes average now, but what’s on the horizon?

 

The 2012 hurricane season officially began last Friday, but mother nature had no interest in waiting for our calendar. Already, two tropical systems have gathered enough steam in the Caribbean to make it to named status. It’s a rare occurrence, say meteorologists, but one that has no bearing on the severity or frequency of storms to come.

So what is the outlook for the summer storm season? Jerry Stenger of the Virginia State Climatology Office at UVA is keeping an eye on the forecast from Charlottesville. It’s looking pretty quiet, he said—but don’t get complacent.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued its prediction for a “near-normal” hurricane season in the Atlantic basin, with nine to 15 named storms and four to eight hurricanes. Meanwhile, Colorado State University’s Department of Atmospheric Science is calling for a slightly below-average year, with 10 named storms and four hurricanes.

Numbers are expected to be on the low end of normal largely because of bigger global weather trends, Stenger explained. The southern Pacific cooling-current phenomenon known as La Niña appears to be on its way out, he said, and shifting toward the opposite state, an El Niño, as it does every few years. “That influences the forecast in that when we have El Niño conditions, there tends to be a suppression of tropical cyclone development in the Atlantic Ocean,” Stenger said, in part because of wind currents in the Southeastern U.S.

But the outlook in coming years could be quite different, he said. Sea-surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic are known to fluctuate on a 10- to 20-year cycle, and as the water closer to home warms up, it brings heightened storm activity.

“We seem to be distinctly moving into a period where we’re likely to see more storms overall,” Stenger said.

These oscillations come with consequences for those who fail to heed its effects, he said. The latter half of the last century was something of an “off” period for hurricane activity, and in that time, there was a coastal building boom in Virginia and up and down the eastern seaboard. Our understanding of the cyclic nature of hurricane seasons has caught up with reality, Stenger said, “but now there’s a huge amount of property at risk from these storms.”

As for the longer view, researchers know that global average sea surface temperatures have been on the rise for decades. It’s a key concern of scientists looking at global climate shifts. And while it’s not clear yet exactly what an all-around rise in ocean water temps will do to the Atlantic storm cycle, Stenger said, “if you had to go to Vegas with it, the better bet is for a long-term increase.”

Quiet season or busy, climate experts have a well-used saying when it comes to hurricanes, he said: “It only takes one.”—Graelyn Brashear

 

Green restart

I’ve been a dirt-grubbing, stream-walking bird and bug lover since childhood. I went the humanities route in college, but studied botany on the side so I could keep one foot in the sciences. For me, writing about the natural world has always been a particularly gratifying part of being a journalist, and as news editor, I was glad to inherit a section that takes aim at local environmental news on a weekly basis.

As I take over curating this page, I want to invite all of you to join in and help to keep it growing as a space not just for science- and information-based reporting, but also for readers to weigh in about what’s happening in their world.

We may give Green Scene its own spot in C-VILLE, but in my mind, these stories aren’t niche news. Environmental issues affect everyone. So come join the conversation. Check out www.c-ville.com to comment on our weekly Green Scene stories, and if you’re interested in contributing your thoughts, ideas, or essays, send me an e-mail at news@c-ville.com.—Graelyn Brashear

The two-wheeled traverse

Charlottesville may not have the hills of San Francisco, but for those who make their way around by bike, knowing which routes to take can make the difference between a pleasant jaunt across town and a grueling battle with gravity. Determined cyclists will experiment with different routes to figure out which ones will get them to their destination in a timely and less-than-exhausted fashion.

Knowing how the rest of Charlottesville’s streets are organized can be helpful. Think of the Downtown Mall as the hub of a wheel with major arteries jutting out like spokes. Preston Avenue veers off roughly northwest; McIntire Road heads out northeast. High Street cuts east to Route 250 and out of town, Market Street runs southeast and ends at the Rivanna River. Monticello Avenue, Avon Street, and Fifth Street Extended are your south and southwest options. Finally, Cherry Avenue and Main Street take you into the west and northwest neighborhoods of Charlottesville.

It’s also helpful to know how these major arteries are connected—or not. For example, 10th Street Northwest does a great job of connecting Preston and West Main, whereas there’s no easy way to get between Park Street and High Street. Monticello Avenue, Carlton Road, and Meade Avenue create a nice semi-circle expressway that can very easily take you from Ridge Street across Avon and Market all the way over to High Street.

It can be gratifying to find clever ways to avoid treacherous intersections. For example, heading north on Ridge Street and going down Ridge-McIntire through the Ridge-McIntire/Preston intersection can be hazardous to your health. If you want to head up Preston, try hanging a left onto West Main Street, then take your next right down Fourth Street. You’ll avoid the intersection and a stretch of the hill going up Preston. The Main Street/Ridge-McIntire intersection isn’t the most pleasant either; if you’re heading north to Downtown, a nice alternate route is to hang a right on Monticello Avenue and a left on Second Street Southeast.

If you’re thinking to yourself, “Gosh, wouldn’t it be nice if we could collate local cyclists knowledge to make even better bike routes through town?” you’re in luck! The Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission is working on a project to capture the experience and wisdom of city cyclists. From April 18 to May 18 participants used a smart phone app to track their rides around town. The information will go towards determining the best places for multi-use traffic improvements. You can go to www.tjpdc.org/cvillebikemapp for more info. See you on the road!—Kassia Arbabi

Kassia Arbabi helps run Cville Foodscapes and Alexander House, and gets around town mostly by bike.

 

BULLETIN BOARD

In retirement: Albemarle County’s Acquisition of Conservation Easements (or ACE) program recently acquired another 40.6 acres near Crozet. The easement purchase retires development rights on a stretch of land fronting I-64, creating a buffer along Stockton Creek. The additional easements bring the total of ACE-protected county land to 7,469 acres.

Hunt, hunt, hike: Shenandoah National Park is hosting a family-friendly scavenger hunt and hike Saturday, June 16. The 3.6-mile hike begins at Mill Prong Trail and finishes at Rapidian Camp, a favorite fishing spot for President Hoover. Contact Bette Dzamba at bd4q@virginia.edu in advance for more details.

Green for green: The Piedmont Environmental Council is looking for nominees for a community and school garden award it plans to hand out this year in an effort to encourage local growing. Three great student- or resident-run plots in the region will get a $500 award, and three more will get $300. Entries should be in by Nov. 12; check out http://pecva.org for more info.

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