Atlantic Hurricane Season Nearly Over, Forecaster Says
MIAMI A noted U.S. hurricane forecaster said Tuesday there will be just one more hurricane this year, a welcome relief after the devastation caused last year by hurricanes like Katrina.
The season has so far seen nine tropical storms, of which five reached hurricane strength. William Gray's forecast team at Colorado State University said that by Nov. 30, the end of the official six-month season, the total will be just 11 storms, with one more hurricane.
Gray's team said no more "major" hurricanes will form. The season has produced only two -- Gordon and Helene -- of the most destructive type of hurricane, Category 3 or higher on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale with sustained winds above 110 miles per hour.
The scarcity of hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico has been cited as a key factor in lower energy prices recently. The Gulf supplies about a quarter of U.S. oil output and prices soared last year when Hurricane Katrina struck in August.
The unexpected development of the El Nino warm water phenomenon in the eastern Pacific has proved a blessing for storm-weary residents of Florida, the Gulf coast and the Caribbean following two crushing Atlantic hurricane seasons.
Last year shattered a 72-year-old record with 28 tropical storms.
Fifteen of them grew to hurricane strength with 74 mph winds and Katrina became the most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history when it swamped New Orleans, killing 1,500 people on the Gulf Coast and causing $80 billion in damage.
The year before, Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne hit Florida. Jeanne killed 3,000 people in Haiti.
Following two damaging years, Gray and other forecasters predicted another busy season. They have been wildly off target.
"Typically, El Nino conditions put an early end to hurricane formation in the Atlantic basin," Gray said in a written statement. "This year, El Nino has developed faster than almost anyone predicted."
In an El Nino, a warming of waters in the eastern Pacific stymies Atlantic hurricane formation by increasing wind shear, a variation of winds speeds at different altitudes.
Forecasters have cited other factors that have dampened hurricane activity, including Saharan dust over the ocean and cooler-than-expected Atlantic sea surface temperatures. Hurricanes draw their energy from warm seawater.
The United States has not been hit by a hurricane this year. Ernesto, briefly a hurricane near Haiti and Cuba, struck Florida as a tropical storm and did little damage. Hurricane Florence brushed Bermuda, a British territory in mid-Atlantic.
The average Atlantic season sees about 10 tropical storms. Six become hurricanes and two develop into major hurricanes.