Active 2011 Atlantic hurricane season predicted by CSU forecasters

Forecasters at Colorado State University are predicting that the summer of 2011 will bring another active hurricane season to the Atlantic Basin.

Meteorologists Phil Klotzbach and William Gray think 16 named tropical storms will form between June 1 and November 30. Of those storms, nine will develop into hurricanes with winds of at least 74 mph, and five of those will intensify into major hurricanes with winds exceeding 110 mph.

Klotzbach and Gray think the active season will be fueled by very warm waters in the Atlantic Basin, which includes the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. The CSU forecasters also think that a weather phenomenon known as La Nina also will enhance storm formation in the Atlantic.

A La Nina event occurs when waters in the equatorial region of the Pacific Ocean are cooler than usual. The cooler waters often cause atmospheric conditions over the Atlantic Basin that allow tropical storms to develop. These favorable conditions can include diminished wind-shear. When wind-shear is high over the Atlantic, tropical storms have trouble forming and strengthening because the wind-shear disrupts their development.

If the 2011 hurricane season is active, it will continue a trend of busy seasons that began in 1995. Gray, a pioneer in the science of long-range hurricane forecasting, thinks this cycle of active seasons is caused by changes in salt content of the Atlantic waters. Salt level fluctuates because of ocean currents. An increase in the salt content makes ocean waters warmer, and hurricanes draw their enormous energy from warm water.

The cycle of active hurricane seasons can last 20 years or longer.

Last summer's hurricane season was the third-most active on record, but the activity went virtually unnoticed because no storm made landfall in the U.S. Meteorologists including Gray and Klotzbach don't think this kind of luck can continue.


Alabama Family Will Donate Historic House for Renovation as African-American History Museum

(NOTE: This is a news release I've sent out about the effort to renovate one of Plymouth's oldest and most historic structures.)

An Alabama family with North Carolina roots will donate an early 19th-century house dating back to the earliest days of Plymouth's history for renovation and use as a museum depicting African-American history and culture.

The house, listed in the National Register of Historic Places as the Picot-Armistead-Pettiford House, will be donated by the family of Velma and James Braye of Tuskegee Institute, Alabama to a non-profit organization to be designated in Plymouth. The donation was arranged by the Plymouth Small Town Main Street Committee, with assistance from senior historian Carl Westmoreland of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati.

The Brayes, their daughter Linda Bulls, son-in-law George Bulls, and granddaughter Salena Bulls decided to donate the house after a private meeting in Plymouth April 1 that included family friend Peter McNair, Westmoreland and his wife Carol, and representatives of the Plymouth Small Town Main Street Committee.

Earlier that day, nine-year-old Salena Bulls said she thought it would be "great" if the house was used as a museum. "Like Salena, I think it's a wonderful thing that the house will be utilized as an African-American history museum," said Velma Braye, who grew up in the house. "It's something I've been wanting since 2000.

Braye's mother, Gladys Whitley, who died in 2000, was the house's last occupant.

Westmoreland said the house is a "capsule of history" whose historic stature is enhanced by its unusual succession of owners.

"Each owner made a significant contribution to Plymouth and to the whole notion of American striving and attainment," Westmoreland said.

The two-story wood-frame house overlooking the Roanoke River was built in 1814 by physician Julian Picot, a Frenchman who is thought to have come to the settlement that is now Plymouth in the 1780s after being shipwrecked on Ocracoke Island. Picot arrived in Plymouth at about the same time the town was established in 1787. Plymouth was incorporated in 1807, only seven years before Picot bought a lot at the corner of West Main and Monroe streets where he built the house.

Plymouth, located about six miles upstream from where the Roanoke River empties into the Albemarle Sound, became one of North Carolina's busiest ports after the nearby Dismal Swamp Canal opened in 1805. Ships loaded at Plymouth traveled down the Roanoke, across the Albemarle Sound, and through the canal to the deepwater port about 100 miles away at Norfolk, Virginia.

In 1844 the title to the house and lot was transferred to Robert Armistead, a Plymouth merchant. Robert Armistead died in 1857, but his brother Thomas lived in the house until after the Civil War. Plymouth saw heavy fighting during the war, and Thomas Armistead's house was one of only a handful of buildings that weren't heavily damaged or destroyed before the war ended in 1865.

Local oral history has long linked the house to the Underground Railroad that helped escaped slaves in the Antebellum South find their way to freedom. But some historians challenge that theory because the 1850 Census indicates that both Armistead brothers owned slaves.

Thomas Armistead's house was sold at a public auction in 1886 to William H. Hampton. The house stayed in the Hampton family until 1913, when it was bought by Jane Brinkley. The following year, Brinkley sold the house to Reuben Pettiford, an African-American brick mason.

Westmoreland, the historian, noted that this transaction in which a white owner sold a house to a black buyer was very unusual in 1914.

Reuben Pettiford died in 1916, but his descendants still own the house. The fact that the house has stayed in the hands of an African-American family for nearly a century and was used as a boarding house and hotel for blacks during the so-called "Jim Crow" era of segregation also is historically significant, Westmoreland said.

"We are delighted that the Braye family has decided to make this huge contribution to our effort to improve downtown Plymouth," said Willie Drye, chairman of Plymouth's Small Town Main Street Committee. "The Picot-Armistead-Pettiford House is one of North Carolina's most historic buildings, and the restoration of this great old house as a museum of African-American history and culture will be a milestone for our downtown commercial district. This will be a wonderful addition to our collection of museums focusing on Plymouth's rich maritime, Civil War and natural histories."

The Small Town Main Street Committee will immediately launch a fund-raising effort to put a new roof on the house and stabilize the historic structure, Drye said. Advisors from the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources will help plan the roof, he said.