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Posted at 2:30 PM ET, 10/11/2009

What Happened to Hurricane Season?

By Dan Stillman

* D.C. Area Forecast | Hurricane Tracking Center | More Coverage *


Satellite image of Hurricane Bill on Aug. 19. At the time, Bill was a Category 4 storm with sustained winds of 135 mph. To date, Bill is the strongest and longest-lasting (Aug. 15-24) storm of a weak 2009 Atlantic hurricane season. Courtesy NASA.

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."

By Dan Stillman  | October 11, 2009; 2:30 PM ET
Categories:  Tropical Weather  | Tags:  2009 hurricane season, hurricane, hurricanes  
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Comments

OK, so I understand that El Nino caused the drop in storms, but how is it that El Nino was not captured in the preseaeson forecasts? How reliable are these forecasts?

Posted by: tomtildrum | October 9, 2009 11:32 AM | Report abuse

@tomtildrum

Pretty much all of the pre-season hurricane outlooks called for at or below average activity, largely because of el nino. Check out our tropical weather archive and you will see this is the case.

Posted by: Jason-CapitalWeatherGang | October 9, 2009 1:39 PM | Report abuse

The tropical cyclones seem to be forming. They just aren't getting anywhere [cf. Henri] due to wind-shear blowoff by the strong El Nino high-altitude westerlies.

Posted by: Bombo47jea | October 9, 2009 2:34 PM | Report abuse

Thanks to Jeff Masters at Wunderground.com and his blog. I read his blog almost daily and was routed here through his blog--funny enough! :-)

Posted by: Camden-CapitalWeatherGang | October 9, 2009 3:14 PM | Report abuse

Although climate change was not mentioned in this article, I surmise that over time, increased hurricane activity is a concern due to excessive warming of ocean water, particularly in the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico (which is basically a warm bathtub in the summer months).

Perhaps the reason that a lot of people discount global warming as a significant influence on human safety (and attendant property damage) in hurricane prone areas is that there will always be isolated seasonal deviations that will not fit the long term prognostications or the unfortunate reality of increased storm activity.

Posted by: MillPond2 | October 9, 2009 8:14 PM | Report abuse

Praise God

Posted by: Axel2 | October 9, 2009 8:35 PM | Report abuse

So Al Gore made a lot of money and got a Nobel Piece of Malarkey Prize for claiming hurricanes would furiously develop due to global warming and all of you weather geeks conveniently forgot all about El Nino and El Nina and solar flares and everything else and Nasa for got to record the temps in October and used the September data instead and no controls over the temp vicinities and factors were in place and here we are about to be taxed out of our gourds because you people are lazy, sloppy, politically motivated and pseudo-scientists. "Isolated seasonal deviations" indeed.

Posted by: chatard | October 9, 2009 10:46 PM | Report abuse

@tomtildrum

El Nino forecasting is still a work in progress, and so it wasn't really clear until early June that an El Nino event was emerging and that it would be in full swing during the heart of hurricane season. Once this became clear, the original forecasts for a near to slightly above average season were gradually revised downward. Back at the end of May, Jeff Masters at Weather Underground had an informative post about predicting El Nino, the prospects for an El Nino this hurricane season, and El Nino's typical impacts on hurricane season

Posted by: Dan-CapitalWeatherGang | October 9, 2009 10:53 PM | Report abuse

I have to strongly agree with chatard. Since the big 2005 season, the "isolated seasonal deviations" to increased storm activity have now become too commonplace (4 years in a row, now) to simply shrug off as flukes or irregularities. Year by year, Al Gore and his supporters are being proved wrong. Though the Western Pacific got a few good storms this year, hurricane seasons in general, especially in the North Atlantic, are NOT getting worse.

Posted by: MMCarhelp | October 9, 2009 10:57 PM | Report abuse

Since I was the individual who made the now infamous remark "isolated seasonal variations", I would simply like to state that weather does not both gradually and evenly get worse and worse or better or better over time.

If you graph weather activity over short periods, it will not produce a straight line. Long periods might yield a graph with smaller spikes in activity. Averages can also be highly deceiving when it comes to weather.

I imagine that in order to truly prove hurricane activity overall is occurring for better or worse, documentation over decades will be required, which will then have to be compared to past activity.

It may be that over 20 or 30 years (or longer), swings in hurricane activity might be more extreme, with net result that average activity is up. Or, if we are fortunate, the prognosticators will find that their weather models are incomplete or flawed, and will have to make improvements.

What say you, Weather Gang?

Posted by: MillPond2 | October 10, 2009 12:28 PM | Report abuse

"isolated seasonal deviations"

It seems that whenever reality goes against the prognostications of the believers in catastrophic, man caused, global warming, it is simply "isolated seasonal deviations".

I don't recall that term being used when it was an active hurricane season. And I don't recall that term being used back in 1998, during the severe El Nino induced heat spike.

Funny how rises in temperature and rises in hurricane activity are caused by man, but decreases in either temperature or hurricane activity are "isolated seasonal deviations". Sort of a "heads I win, tails you lose" deal.

Mr. Q.

Posted by: Mr_Q | October 12, 2009 12:40 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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