The 2011 hurricane season begins quietly today after six straight years without a direct hit to Florida. Don't get too comfortable, emergency planners say, and stay informed. Here are five things to know about this year's hurricane season, which ends Nov. 30.
A busy season predicted ... again: All the major hurricane prediction organizations forecast a busy season. NOAA's latest forecast predicts 12-18 named storms, 6-10 hurricanes, and 3-6 major hurricanes (111 mph or higher). Forecasters predicted an active season last year, and it was — 19 named storms and 12 hurricanes — but none came our way.
Hurricane immunity: Indian blessings, iron deposits in the bay, ionic flux — there are many theories for why no hurricane has hit Tampa Bay since 1921. Jeff Masters of weatherunderground.com offers this: As the Earth rotates, three major bands of wind blow in alternating directions. In the tropics, the band moves east, and in the mid-latitudes area, the band moves west. Tampa Bay falls between those bands and that could shift storms away from us. Or, he adds, maybe we're just lucky.
Neutral season ahead: We're moving out of La Niña conditions, which tend to produce busier Atlantic hurricane seasons, but not quite entering El Niño, when wind shear hampers hurricane formation, into a neutral phase. Not good. "It's like everything has calmed down and the ocean is pretty close to normal," said Bay News 9 chief meteorologist Mike Clay. "Time to kick up some hurricanes."
Sea-surface temperatures: Warm water feeds hurricanes, cooler water inhibits them. The bad news for Tampa Bay: Water temperatures in the central Caribbean Sea, where hurricanes that threaten Florida's West Coast tend to begin, are trending warmer than normal.
Bermuda high: One of the biggest factors keeping hurricanes away from Florida and the eastern U.S., the Bermuda high is a mass of high pressure hovering in the Atlantic summer and autumn. It is centered near Bermuda and can extend across the entire Atlantic. The high can steer hurricanes away from Florida, which is what happened last year.