What Happened to Hurricane Season?
Listen closely and you just might hear a pin dropping into the ocean. That's how quiet this hurricane season has been in the Atlantic.
The eight named storms thus far are only one short of the nine expected at this point in an average season. But only two have become hurricanes -- in an average season five storms would have reached hurricane strength by now -- and most storms have been short-lived and have largely steered clear of land.
Capital Weather Gang hurricane expert Greg Postel says a major late-season surge in storm activity doesn't seem likely.
"Conditions may allow for some tropical development later this month," Postel said. "But the window of opportunity is rapidly closing on our hurricane season."
A telling statistic of this year's lack of tropical firepower is the Accumulated Cyclone Energy index, an overall measure of tropical season activity based on frequency, duration and intensity of storms. The index for the North Atlantic is about 50% below average for the season so far.
And if that's too technical for you, here's another indicator of inactivity, courtesy the hurricane blog of former National Hurricane Center director Max Mayfield: The total number of NHC aircraft missions for 2009 was 33 as of Oct. 7, compared with an average of 130 in each of the previous five years.
Tropical experts credit El Nino with fostering an environment that has been more hostile to hurricane formation than anticipated -- preseason forecasts were for a near- to slightly above-average number of storms. El Nino, the periodic warming of the ocean waters in the equatorial Pacific, creates winds over the Atlantic that change direction and speed with height and tend to rip storms apart, or prevent them from forming in the first place.
An abundance of dry air over the Atlantic has also hampered storm development, forecasters say.
An editorial in the Times-Picayune called the quiet hurricane season "a blessing for Louisiana." The Gulf Coast has been particularly barren of tropical weather, with the few threats to the U.S. mainland that have materialized focused mainly on the Atlantic coast.
Jeff Masters, director of meteorology for the Weather Underground, says the lack of hurricane activity is a welcome break after a busy 2008 season, which saw 16 named storms and eight hurricanes, both above the averages of 10 and six, respectively. More than 1,000 deaths worldwide and over $40 billion in damages were attributed to the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season.
To date, damages for the 2009 season are estimated at only $500 million with 15 fatalities.
"The primary mood is relief, since we certainly needed a break after last year's destructive hurricane season," said Masters, who writes a popular blog on wunderground.com. "The other mood is crabbiness, as the hurricane enthusiasts that find themselves with nothing to track get bored and start arguing [on the blog] about inconsequential things."
Jeff Berardelli, a meteorologist for WFOR-TV in Miami, has experienced that same conflicting dynamic firsthand.
"As a person living in Miami I am more than grateful that no hurricanes have come our way," Berardelli said. "As a meteorologist it has been kind of boring."
With under two months remaining in hurricane season, which officially ends Nov. 30, forecasters and organizations such as the Red Cross warn this is no time for residents of hurricane-prone areas to get complacent.
"It should be quieter than we're used to, but I think we'll still get at least one or two more named storms," Masters said. "I give a 40% chance we'll get a hurricane in the Caribbean or Gulf of Mexico."
| October 11, 2009; 2:30 PM ET
Categories: Tropical Weather | Tags: 2009 hurricane season, hurricane, hurricanes
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