Saturday marks halftime of hurricane season and, so far, the monster storms have posted a giant goose egg.
Six tropical storms have formed since the season began on June 1, but none has mustered the muscle — at least 74 mph — to be classified a hurricane.
Hostile environmental conditions in the Atlantic have served as a spoiler to the tropical systems rolling off the coast of Africa. For only the 26th time since 1851, the month of August will come and go without the year’s first hurricane developing.
So is it time to relax?
“Absolutely not,” warns Dennis Feltgen, spokesman for the National Hurricane Center in Miami. “We’ve been very fortunate. But are we going to be blessed through the rest of the season? Don’t count on it.”
Robert Molleda, the warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service, points out that the worst may be yet to come.
“September and October are two months in the hurricane season in which, historically speaking, South Florida has been hit the most,” Molleda said.”We don’t want (the lack of hurricane development) to let people’s guard down.”
Still, South Floridians can’t be blamed for letting out a collective sigh of relief with August nearly in the rear-view mirror and no hurricanes to worry about. The month is one of the season’s most tropically active and some powerful storms have pummeled the state during August.
Andrew was the third and last Category 5 hurricane to hit the United States in the 20th century, causing catastrophic damage in southern Miami-Dade County on Aug. 24, 1992.
The last time a hurricane did not form in August was in 2002 when Gustav developed on Sept. 11, 2002, making landfall in North Carolina, where it killed one person. Since continuous satellite imagery of the Atlantic Basin began in the 1960s, hurricanes have failed to develop in August in five years.
Aug. 10 is the average date the first Atlantic hurricane arrives, according to the National Hurricane Center. The record for the latest-arriving first hurricane is Oct. 8, 1905.
“That’s a record I’d love to beat,” Feltgen said.
On Aug. 8, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its updated season forecast, calling for an above-average outlook that includes 13-19 named storms, 6-9 hurricanes and 3-5 major hurricanes (Category 3 or higher). That forecast was just slightly below the pre-season outlook released in May.
During the 30-year period from 1981-2010, the average hurricane season produced 12.1 named storms, 6.4 hurricanes and 2.7 major hurricanes. The U.S. hasn’t endured landfall from a major hurricane since Wilma, rated a Category 3 when it hit South Florida on October 24, 2005.
Factors including wind shear and dry air have combined to cut down storms this year. But veteran hurricane watchers say that ocean temperatures remain favorable for tropical development and a possible shift in atmospheric conditions could result in a burst of hurricane activity at the beginning in September, which starts Sunday.
Historically, September has dwarfed all other months in tropical storm activity. Records show that from 1851 to 2010, 560 tropical storms formed in September compared to 370 in August and 329 in October.
“That’s why we definitely need to be cognizant and aware of what’s going on even with the slow start to the season,” Molleda said.
Presently, there are two tropical waves in the Atlantic, although it is too soon to tell if either will become the season’s first hurricane.
“The big emphasis on this is, it doesn’t matter when the first hurricane forms,” Feltgen said. “If we get just one storm and it hits you, then it’s a really bad year. The overall numbers when it comes to preparation don’t amount to a hill of beans. It only takes one.”
Late start for hurricanes
Since continuous satellite imagery over the entire Atlantic Basin was developed in the mid-60s, the season’s first hurricane has developed on Sept. 1 or later in five years:
Sept. 2, 1988/Debbie
Sept. 3, 1967/Arlene
Sept. 9, 2001/Erin
Sept. 10, 1984/Diana
Sept. 11, 2002/ Gustav