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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 10/31/2008

Hurricane Season Going Out Like a Lamb?

By Dan Stillman

As far as the United States is concerned, the tropics have been quiet as a mouse since the August-September onslaught of tropical storms Fay and Hanna (briefly a hurricane when it was in the Caribbean) and the devastating duo of hurricanes Gustav and Ike. All four made landfall and headlines in this country, and also smacked Haiti four times in less than four weeks.

Believe it or not, six named storms have formed since Ike (a storm is named if it reaches tropical storm strength). But you probably haven't heard much about them, with none coming close to the U.S. mainland and only three -- Tropical Storm Marco and hurricanes Kyle and Omar -- having impacted land.

So, with one month to go in the "official" hurricane season -- the season officially runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, though every so often a storm manages to form in December -- how are we doing on those preseason predictions of an above-average year?

Keep reading for the answer. Also, see our full forecast into early next week, including the outlook for tonight's trick or treaters.

Actually, not too shabby. Back in April, the folks at Colorado Sate University -- William Gray and Phil Klotzbach -- predicted there would be 15 named storms, with 8 reaching hurricane status and 4 becoming major hurricanes (Category 3 or higher). And in May, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration called for a 60-70% chance of 12 to 16 named storms, including 6 to 9 hurricanes and 2 to 5 major hurricanes.

Survey says? .... Ding! Ding! Ding!

So far, we've had 15 named storms, including 7 hurricanes and 4 major hurricanes. That's right in the wheelhouse of the forecasts, and nice to see after the overestimated forecasts of 2006 and 2007, and the underestimation of the record-setting 2005 season, which featured Hurricane Katrina.

The numbers aren't likely to change all that much over the last month or so of the season. Weather Underground's Jeff Masters notes in his latest post that, since 1995, November and December combined have averaged one named storm per year, and that "November storms are primarily a threat to Central America, Cuba, the Cayman Islands, the Bahamas, and the Gulf Coast of Florida."

The warm ocean surface temperatures needed to form and maintain a hurricane are quickly cooling in the Gulf of Mexico. And at the moment conditions in the Atlantic Ocean are also not conducive for storm development, but may be better by mid-November.

In the Caribbean, however, sea surface temperatures are still high enough, and wind patterns favorable enough, that Masters puts the odds at 50% of seeing a named storm there during the first half of November.

By Dan Stillman  | October 31, 2008; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Tropical Weather  
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Can the relative strength of a hurricane season be used predictively? Does an active or inactive season give any clues about the winter to follow?

Posted by: crunchyfrog | October 31, 2008 12:31 PM | Report abuse

crunchyfrog: The hurricane season prior to winter is one factor we look at in developing our winter outlook. However, it's a relatively minor factor as it shows only a little predictive value.

Posted by: Jason-CapitalWeatherGang | October 31, 2008 5:42 PM | Report abuse

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