Forecast wrong, but who's to complain?

A surprise late El Nino and unusually dry air over the Atlantic led to a slightly below-average hurricane season this year, contradicting the predictions of Colorado State University hurricane forecasters William Gray and Philip Klotzbach, the team said Friday.

Gray and Klotzbach had predicted a well-above-average season in their forecasts issued in December, early April and late May.

"If we bust, we admit we bust," Gray said.

El Nino, a warming in the Pacific Ocean, has far-reaching effects that include changing wind patterns in the eastern Atlantic, which can disrupt the formation of hurricanes there, Gray said.

An El Nino looked unlikely when the team made its forecasts, he said.

"We thought we were not going to get one, but it unexpectedly came on very strong," Gray said.

The 2006 Atlantic hurricane season had nine named storms, five hurricanes, two major hurricanes and no Category 4 or 5 hurricanes.

The team said the season started nearly a month earlier than average and had the fewest named storms since 1997, the fewest hurricanes since 2002 and the fewest named storms to make U.S. landfall since 2001.

The CSU team has provided seasonal Atlantic basin hurricane forecasts for 23 years. Its first forecast for the 2007 season is scheduled for Dec. 8.

"The big question is will this El Nino keep going on next year and make a multiyear deficit of storms," Gray said.