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Rising Ocean Temps Could Boost Chance For Hurricanes In San Diego

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Aired 6/1/11

June 1st marks the first official day of hurricane season. Although San Diego doesn’t typically get the mega-storms, rising ocean temperatures could soon change that.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting an above-normal hurricane season, with 18 named tropical storms in the Atlantic, and up to six of them major hurricanes.

In this handout satellite image provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Hurricane Earl is seen on August 30, 2010 in the Atlantic Ocean as seen from space.
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Above: In this handout satellite image provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Hurricane Earl is seen on August 30, 2010 in the Atlantic Ocean as seen from space.

Named storms have winds of 39 mph or higher. Major hurricanes with categories of 3, 4 or 5 gust to 111 mph or higher.

(Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was the third-most intense hurricane to ever hit the United States since reliable records began in 1851, according to the National Weather Service. Only the "Labor Day Hurricane" that hit the Florida Keys in September 1935 and 1969's Hurricane Camille were more intense.)

Climatology researcher Sam Iacobellis with Scripps Institution of Oceanography said a hurricane in San Diego is very unlikely.

"Mostly because the water temperature off our coast is too cold to support a hurricane," said Iacobellis. But climate change could soon change that, he added.

“As the ocean gets warmer, as it’s projected to do in the climate models, yes, then there would be more and more of a chance," he explained. "It would still probably be pretty slim, but it would increase."

Hurricanes need water above 80 degrees to main their power. San Diego's ocean temperatures typically peak at little more than 70 degrees in summer. Iacobellis said sea level rise will be a bigger threat for San Diego than hurricanes in the coming decade.

NOAA officials said the above-average hurricane prediction is due to Atlantic water temperatures of 2 degrees above normal.

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