To those of you who are new to this page, welcome. Pull up a computer and get comfortable. I hope you’ll like what you find here. To those of you who have been here before, welcome back. I’m grateful you’re here again. A quick reminder of what I hope this page will be–and what it is not. One of the great joys of science/technology reporting is that I get to talk to really interesting people who are doing really interesting things. I also run across odd bits of information that I’d miss if I were in another line of work. I’ll do my best to pass these on to you. To me, that’s usually the most daunting part of my work. I labor and fret over scripts for television or radio, trying to get every word just right, because there’s no second chance. But this blog is a somewhat different proposition. Fear not–I’ll still fret over accuracy and context. But instead of filing a report, I hope we’ll be having a conversation. Please, please weigh in, even if only with a casual line or two. Tell me what interests you, or doesn’t, or gets you mad, or gives you a laugh, and I’ll try to oblige. I really do read comments, and I learn a lot from them. As for what this is not–well, I don’t think of this as a place for me to spout my own opinons. There are plenty of other places to go for punditry, some of which I truly respect, but I think my job is to provide you with useful information–raw data, as it were, to which I welcome your response. So let’s get back to business. —————– The Ghost of Hurricane Katrina NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is out this morning with its outlook for the 2006 hurricane season, and sounding dark about it. They predict: 13-16 named storms–tropical storms or worse. 8-10 of them are likely to become hurricanes, with winds of 75 mph or more. 4-6 could reach Category 3 or higher. An "average" year to them is 11 named storms, six hurricanes, two big ones. (For more, and for definitions, try http://www.nhc.noaa.gov.) But we haven’t had an "average" year in a decade, and last year, of course, was off the charts. This year can’t possibly be as bad (can it?), simply because the odds and the atmosphere rarely align the way they did in 2005, but today’s outlook is for a slightly more active atmosphere than what they predicted a year ago this week. Ask around at the National Hurricane Center, and they’ll mostly blame the Atlantic Multi-Decadal Signal–a shift in prevailing winds and currents that comes along irregularly. But it so happens that the tropical Atlantic has been unusually warm of late, and warm, steamy water is the fuel of hurricanes. Bill Blakemore, my friend down the hall who also reports on such matters, has posted a piece on whether there ought to be Category 6 hurricanes; find it HERE. Bill has spent the last couple of years concentrating on global climate change, and he’s talked to a lot of atmospheric scientists who are worried. As we’ve reported in the last year, there’s evidence to suggest that as the climate warms–and it is warming; the questions are how much and why–the intensity of hurricanes rises accordingly. It does not seem to affect the number of storms, but in the last several decades they’ve tended to be stronger. The NOAA people, some of whom quietly grumble that they can’t say what they’d like to about climate warming, do repeat that we need to be ready. Evacuation plans have not greatly improved since last year, and America’s coastal population keeps rising–despite the mass exodus from the New Orleans area since last August. (Hurricane Katrina on August 28, 2005, before it made landfall. NOAA satellite image.) This from Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center: "Whether we face an active hurricane season, like this year, or a below normal season, the crucial message for every person is the same: prepare, prepare, prepare." Mayfield says he has no problem sounding like a broken record if it gets people to stock up on emergency supplies now, and know where they would go if they find themselves in a storm’s path. He also says he hopes he’s wasting people’s time. But he knows he’s not.