For ninth year, Florida avoids hurricanes

For a record ninth-straight year, no hurricane made landfall in the state.
Published November 30 2014
Updated December 1 2014

The 2014 hurricane season ended at midnight Sunday, marking the ninth consecutive year a hurricane did not make landfall in Florida.

"A lot of it is just plain dumb luck," said meteorologist Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman for the National Hurricane Center. "We've been very fortunate that when tropical activity has been out there, it hasn't been steered toward us."

This hurricane season was characterized by normal to slightly below normal levels of activity, said Jennifer Hubbard, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Ruskin, which is almost exactly what experts predicted.

The season's May forecast predicted eight to 13 named storms, three to six hurricanes and one or two major hurricanes.

There ended up being eight named storms and six hurricanes, including two major ones.

A major hurricane is a Category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson scale, which classifies storms by wind speed. Category 3 hurricanes have wind speeds of 111 to 130 mph, enough to cause devastating destruction. Hurricane Katrina was a Category 3 storm when it made landfall in Louisiana in 2005.

Only one storm hit the continental United States this year. Arthur, a Category 2 storm, clipped the Outer Banks of North Carolina in early July and then turned northeast and weakened. Its impact was minimal, though, because it had already started to curl away from the coast, Feltgen said.

Tropical Storm Bertha affected Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic before strengthening into a hurricane. It, too, turned east away from the coast. And Tropical Storm Hanna hit Mexico.

The two major hurricanes, Edouard and Gonzalo, lived their whole lives at sea.

Despite the relatively mild hurricane seasons of 2013 and 2014, the Atlantic Ocean has actually been in an era of heightened activity since 1995, Phil Klotzbach, a research scientist at the Tropical Meteorology Project at Colorado State University, said in an email.

These alternating eras of hyperactivity and hypoactivity, called multidecadal oscillations, last 25 to 35 years. Active cycles are characterized by above-normal surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic, lower-than-normal atmospheric pressure at sea level and reduced vertical wind shear, Klotzbach said. High vertical wind shear can rip storms apart before they coalesce.

It's not uncommon to have years that run counter to the particular era of activity or inactivity, Klotzbach said. Shorter-term weather conditions, like El Niño — warmer-than-average Pacific Ocean temperatures that tend to suppress Atlantic hurricanes — and La Niña — cooler-than-average temperatures that tend to enhance them — can override multidecadal oscillations. (Pacific temperatures were average this season.) He cited 1988 and 1989, which both had above-average activity even though they were in a quiet cycle that lasted from 1970 to 1994.

The active period we're in will probably last 10 to 15 more years, Klotzbach said, with a "likely quieter period" to follow.

The nine years without a hurricane that Florida has accumulated is unprecedented. Since 1878, the next-longest period without a hurricane was five years, from 1980 to 1984. "Some of this is due to the fact that we have had anomalous low pressure along the East Coast since 2005, which has tended to steer the storms out to sea," Klotzbach said.

Eleven percent of all Atlantic hurricanes in the 20th century have made landfall in Florida, Klotzbach said. And there have been 61 Atlantic hurricanes since the last one, Wilma, hit in 2005. The odds of not being struck by one of them are 1 in 1,200, he said.

But the fact that Florida has not had a direct hit by a hurricane in such a long time could prove problematic when the next big storm barrels through. A lot of people inexperienced with hurricanes have moved to the state since Wilma, Feltgen said.

He said Floridians should not become complacent, and should use the winter to prepare for next year's season, which begins June 1.

"The battle of hurricane season is always won in the hurricane offseason," Feltgen said. "I'd personally like to go for 10 (years), but that's probably not realistic. This streak is going to come to an end, and we have to be ready for that to happen in 2015."

Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 226-3446 or [email protected] Follow @josh_solomon15.

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