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Update on Hurricane Conditions

SHEILAH KAST, host:

From NPR News, this WEEKEND EDITION. Liane Hansen is away. I'm Sheilah Kast.

Hurricane Dennis is moving toward the US coast of the Gulf of Mexico. It's expected to strike land late this afternoon. NPR's Jon Hamilton is at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Jon, exactly when and where is Dennis going to hit, with what kind of winds?

JON HAMILTON reporting:

Well, the wind is getting pretty obvious. It's going to be within the next couple of hours. Forecasters here are saying Dennis is moving north at about 18 miles an hour, and it's actually picked up speed in the past couple of hours. So it's going to arrive sooner than forecasters thought it would, sometime around mid-afternoon. As for where it's gonna land, Dennis is headed for a section of coast near Pensacola, Florida. The winds and the waves are already picking up there, we've been told, and forecasters are expecting a storm surge of about 10 to 15 feet above normal tide levels, so there will be a lot of flooding.

KAST: Pensacola. That's close to where Ivan hit last year, isn't it? Is it unusual to have two hurricanes hit the same area?

HAMILTON: Well, it is, but it really comes down to luck. You know, you're not protected just 'cause you've been hit once or hit in a previous year. And, of course, during last year's hurricane season, there were some parts of Florida that got hit by three different hurricanes. What's really unusual is for a hurricane to travel up the Gulf so early. It's only July, and usually the season doesn't even get going until August sometime.

KAST: So does that presage anything about how strong the 2005 hurricane season will be?

HAMILTON: It doesn't necessarily mean anything. You know, last year was a terrible year, but the season didn't start particularly early. What's ominous, though, is that the conditions are right for another big year this year. You've got the trade winds blowing storms right toward us. You've got the water temperature at the surface of the ocean that's higher than it usually is. And warm water is what provides fuel to a hurricane, so there's every reason to think that this year is gonna be another big year.

KAST: And is any of this connected to global warming?

HAMILTON: Not exactly. It is true that ocean temperatures have increased very slightly in the past few decades, and it is also true that warmer water can slightly increase the intensity of the hurricanes, or at least that's what scientific studies have suggested. But scientists say there really isn't any good evidence that global warming increases the likelihood that a hurricane will form in the first place, so there's no direct link there.

KAST: NPR's Jon Hamilton at the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Thank you, Jon.

HAMILTON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jon Hamilton is a correspondent for NPR's Science Desk. Currently he focuses on neuroscience and health risks.