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As hurricane season ends, bay area, Florida breathes sigh of relief

We made it. Today ends the 2010 hurricane season, and once again Florida came through unscathed. Given sea surface temperatures and weather patterns, we likely won't hear about hurricanes for six months. But before we turn the page, let's reflect on this unusual season, recapping what we learned and what we might see next.

Forecasters were right: Across the board, all of the top experts predicted the 2010 season would see above-average activity. Most predicted a range of 14-20 named storms and eight-12 hurricanes. We actually had 19 named storms and 12 hurricanes. "I think if you asked most people on the street if we had an active hurricane season, they'd say no," said Bay News 9 meteorologist Mike Clay. "It's because nothing happened here … "

Record-breaking season: While Florida stayed calm, havoc wreaked south of us and in the Atlantic Ocean during the third-busiest season on record. Meteorologists describe the season as "hyperactive," noting the 11 named storms that formed between Aug. 22 and Sept. 29, the most ever in that period. Five Category 4 storms, with winds of 131 mph or higher, formed over 20 days, the most ever in that time frame.

La Niña still going strong: El Niño and La Niña are key players in hurricane season. An El Niño year occurs when warm surface water in the Pacific Ocean moves east toward the West Coast and Central America, causing upper-atmospheric storms that suppress hurricane formation in the Atlantic. La Niña happens when those surface waters slough to the west, increasing chances of Atlantic hurricanes. The current strong La Niña likely will remain through next year, experts agree.

Higher insurance costs: Florida has had no hurricanes since 2005, but home insurance rates are rising. The reasons have little to do with recent hurricane seasons or projections for next year. Florida insurers use complex algorithms to predict future losses, and not just from hurricanes. Insurers are seeing a spike in sinkhole claims, raising rates. Critics say Florida insurers overpay for reinsurance, which protects insurance companies from going broke in disasters.

If history repeats … The good luck can't last forever. The United States has gone five years without a major hurricane of 111 mph winds or higher, though some came close. We've never gone six years without one. Short of saying Florida is due for a big one, meteorologists point out that weather is cyclical. We go through low periods and high periods, hot streaks and cold streaks, La Niñas and El Niños. "It all depends on how the weather pattern sets up," Clay said. And that part is unpredictable.

As hurricane season ends, bay area, Florida breathes sigh of relief 11/29/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 30, 2010 12:49pm]
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