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Despite seemingly calm summer, forecasters call for active hurricane season

The first 10 weeks of hurricane season seemed to pass unobtrusively enough.

Four storms formed but only one, Andrea, stirred serious concern.

Then came the massive ball of dust and dry air off the African coast, inhibiting storm formation.

But hurricane forecasters are maintaining their projections for an above-average 2013 season and say conditions are optimal for a busy conclusion.

"The numbers we're predicting are way above average," said Gerry Bell, lead forecaster for the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center. "The patterns are in place."

Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reaffirmed their call for a very active year on Thursday, predicting between 13 and 19 named storms, six to nine hurricanes, and three to five major hurricanes.

Those numbers are down only slightly from the initial seasonal outlook in May.

Although Tampa Bay residents may not have noticed, this year's storm season has been an active so far, said Bay News 9 meteorologist Diane Kacmarik.

Andrea was the only tropical storm to have a major impact in the area, even though there have been a total of four named storms in the Atlantic.

"We're above normal at this point," Kacmarik said. "We got up to the D name, even though it seems quiet."

The NOAA scientists pointed out that hurricane season does not peak until mid-August through late October.

Dust traveling from the Sahara across the Atlantic has stopped storms from forming or gathering strength in recent weeks. A big dust cloud carrying dry air was a major factor in the destruction of Tropical Storm Dorian in late July.

The dust has been so thick that "you could draw a line through the middle of the Atlantic," Kacmarik said.

Warmer temperatures in the Atlantic and wind patterns caused by heavy rainfall off the western coast of Africa — south of the Sahara — are indicators of the strong season to come, Bell said.

Tropical storms stemming from Africa's west coast near Cape Verde produce the bulk of hurricanes, he added. Although these storms typically don't begin until August, Chantal and Dorian both formed there in July.

"That's really the key area that we look at for hurricane season forecast," he said. "When you see storms forming that far south this early in the year, it's an indicator that the season is going to be strong."

As hurricane season approaches its most active months, tropical conditions can change rapidly, said Dennis Feltgen, spokesman and meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center.

"You go back to the '04 season when it was like someone turned on a switch and all of a sudden we were getting everything," he said.

That year, Hurricane Charley made landfall near Punta Gorda, devastating a section of Florida's west coast. Three other major storms also hit Florida that year.

No major hurricanes have directly hit Tampa Bay since 1921.

NOAA's seasonal outlook does not predict where or when storms might hit land, Feltgen said, so residents should always be on-guard and have hurricane plans.

" 'You ain't seen nothing yet' is the message because early season activity is typically very low," said Pinellas emergency management spokesman Tom Iovino.

An otherwise quiet season can become memorable with just one storm.

"We could have a season that's completely quiet, and there are two storms," Kacmarik said. "One hits Tampa Bay, and everyone's going to remember it as the busiest season."

Despite seemingly calm summer, forecasters call for active hurricane season 08/08/13 [Last modified: Thursday, August 8, 2013 2:54pm]
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