U.S. Hurricane Center Director Says Haiti is ‘Biggest Concern’

By | May 26, 2010

U.S. National Hurricane Center director Bill Read said Tuesday that earthquake-ravaged Haiti was his biggest concern as another Atlantic hurricane season gets under way. He also acknowledged that a powerful storm could wreak havoc with efforts to fight the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

But apart from the potential to halt clean-up efforts, or wash more crude oil ashore, he said there was too much uncertainty about how oil interacts with water and storms to draw any conclusions about what might be at stake in the Gulf. “It’s uncharted territory. It’s not something that’s happened before,” Read said.

“The theories are all over the planet,” he added, referring to suggestions such as one claim that the Gulf oil slick could keep storms from gathering strength.

As head of the Miami-based National Hurricane Center — which tracks cyclones and closely monitors their intensity — Read said the best he could do was to provide the lead time necessary to ensure that spill responders get out of the way of encroaching hurricanes. “The first thing will be to shut down hazardous operations,” he added.

The official start of the six-month Atlantic hurricane season is June 1 and Read, a 60-year-old veteran forecaster, said shifting weather patterns threatened to make 2010 an active storm year, with more tropical storms than usual forming in the Caribbean.

He was referring to forecast models that give what he termed a “‘high probability” of a La Nina weather pattern forming during the peak of the hurricane season later this year.

Forecasts released to date by U.K. and U.S.-based forecasters all point to a stormy season.

Despite all the focus on the Gulf and BP’s oil spill, Read said Haiti, where more than 300,000 people died in January’s earthquake, was probably what keeps him awake the most these days.

“My number one concern this year is Haiti,” said Read, who noted that up to 1 million people made homeless by the quake were still living in tent cities or makeshift shelters with little or no protection from the elements. “We have the potential for another catastrophe there,” Read said of Haiti.

Flash floods have an especially deadly potential in the impoverished Caribbean nation because so much of it has been stripped of trees and other vegetation, he said.

“That’s my take on the real threat for this season,” said Read, who spoke in an interview on the sidelines of an annual Florida hurricane conference.

(Editing by Eric Walsh)

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