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2012 hurricane season could usher in mild Florida winter

High winds from Tropical Storm Isaac kick up waves along the seawall near the Pier in downtown St. Petersburg in late August. The Tampa Bay area hasn’t been hit directly by a hurricane in more than 90 years.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

High winds from Tropical Storm Isaac kick up waves along the seawall near the Pier in downtown St. Petersburg in late August. The Tampa Bay area hasn’t been hit directly by a hurricane in more than 90 years.

As the 2012 hurricane season draws to a close, it appears Florida once again will escape a major storm's landfall.

And the news gets better.

El Niño, the weather phenomenon that suppresses hurricanes but usually brings severe winters to Florida, never really developed. That could be a good sign for the next few months, weather experts say.

Technically, hurricane season ends Nov. 30. But with no storms brewing in the Atlantic basin, it's unlikely a tropical system will threaten the United States before then.

"In 1985, we had Hurricane Kate hit just a couple days before Thanksgiving," said Dennis Feltgen, spokesman for the National Hurricane Center. "Each passing day the odds drop, but you never say never."

The end can't come soon enough for Floridians, who sparred with Hurricane Isaac and Tropical Storm Debby over the summer, and for the millions in New York and New Jersey still recuperating from Hurricane Sandy's assault on the Northeast.

The close of another season is also good news in the Tampa Bay area, where a record continues to grow. Although 114 hurricanes have hit Florida since 1851, Tampa Bay hasn't seen a direct assault in more than 90 years.

"Every day that goes by the record keeps getting broken," said Bay News 9 Chief Meteorologist Mike Clay. "It's astounding."

Florida hasn't been hit by a hurricane since 2005.

Hurricane forecasters, who had predicted 12 to 17 named storms this season, noted that most of the 20 storms avoided the United States altogether.

The only major hurricane of the season, Michael, spiraled out to sea, and just two of 10 hurricanes hit the United States.

The two, Isaac and Sandy, caused significant damage in Louisiana and along the Northeast coast, respectively.

For much of hurricane season, climate experts warned that the end of tropical storms might not mean the end of vicious storms in Florida.

El Niño, the development of warm surface waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean and an eastward wind shear, was expected to develop during the fall, cutting hurricane season short and setting the stage for a wet winter. This didn't happen.

But that doesn't necessarily mean a balmy winter, Clay said.

Cold fronts can still bring short-range cold snaps and inclement weather to the area.

"It's hard to predict," Clay said. "But it probably won't be as warm and dry as it was last winter."

Marissa Lang can be reached at mlang@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3386 or on Twitter @Marissa_Jae.

2012 hurricane season could usher in mild Florida winter 11/22/12 [Last modified: Thursday, November 22, 2012 11:04pm]
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