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    By Tom Brown Tom Brown – Wed May 26, 4:52 pm ET

    FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida (Reuters) – The threat of an above-average 2010 Atlantic hurricane season has heightened over the past month and it now promises to be "a hell of a year," a leading U.S. forecaster said Wednesday.

    William Gray, the hurricane forecast pioneer who founded Colorado State University's respected storm research team, said CSU would ramp up its predictions for the 2010 season in a report due out on June 2.

    "The numbers are going to go up quite high," Gray said. "This looks like a hell of a year."

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    Gray, who spoke on the sidelines of a regional hurricane conference, declined to specify the number of storms CSU will forecast in its outlook next week.

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    In 2005, there were seven major hurricanes.

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    Gray and Phil Klotzbach, lead forecaster with the Colorado State team, both told Reuters that forecast models showing a recent shift in wind patterns and warm tropical Atlantic waters had reinforced the likelihood that a busy hurricane season was on its way.

    They referred specifically to reduced wind shear probabilities due to the dissipation of the El Nino weather phenomenon over the Pacific Ocean.

    "El Nino died pretty quickly over the past couple of months," Klotzbach said.

    An El Nino would normally allow wind sheer to seep into the Atlantic, disrupting storm formation and pushing embryonic hurricanes out to sea far from the oil-rig rich Gulf and the U.S. mainland.

    Wind shear -- caused by a clash between prevailing upper-levels winds out of the west and lower-level easterly winds out of Africa -- can tear apart hurricanes or break up their circulation.

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    Both Gray and Klotzbach said there were too many uncertainties about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill to make any predictions about how it might come into play in the upcoming storm season.

    But they were dismissive of claims the oil slick could keep storms from gathering strength and said a powerful cyclone, particularly if it comes out of the western portion of the Gulf, could propel large quantities of oil ashore in the northern Gulf.

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    "Given the vulnerability of many of our coastal communities to a major landfalling hurricane, a failure to prepare for that will negate any of the work that's been done to deal with the impacts of the oil spill," he said.

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