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It was a busy hurricane season, but not for Florida

This has been the year of the perfect storm forecast — not the year of the perfect storm.

Although Florida was battered and flooded by Tropical Storm Fay, the state escaped the fierce hurricanes that smashed into Texas and the Caribbean.

And after some sloppy forecasting years, the federal government and noted hurricane researchers William Gray and Philip Klotzbach were virtually dead-on in their early-season predictions for 2008.

"I think Dr. Gray's going to nail it," said Bay News 9 chief meteorologist Mike Clay.

The six-month hurricane season officially ends Nov. 30, but experts say unofficially it's over.

Hurricanes sometimes form at the very end of the season — Hurricane Paloma fizzled out less than a week ago. But the high the amount of wind shear — crisscrossing winds at high altitudes — makes it unlikely another hurricane will come ashore this year.

"I'd say you guys got lucky," said Jeff Masters of the Web site wunderground.com.

How lucky? Masters said this was the fourth-busiest year for named storms in the past 65 years. And it's the only year on record in which there were major hurricanes — Category 3 (winds of 111-130 mph) or stronger — in five different months (July through November).

Remember that Hurricane Ike was zooming across the Atlantic Ocean toward Miami until it dropped farther south and smashed into Texas.

And Cuba — 90 miles south of Key West — was hit by hurricanes Gustav, Ike and Paloma.

Even Tropical Storm Fay caused serious damage across Florida but mostly ignored Tampa Bay.

People in the Tampa Bay area may have the impression that it was not a busy year, but "just ask the people in Cuba or Haiti or Texas or Louisiana if it's been a light year," Clay said.

The lack of hurricanes around Florida this year is just luck, experts say.

When researchers make their predictions for the coming hurricane season, they generally focus on the number and intensity of storms, not where those storms will actually hit.

This year's totals so far: 16 named storms, including eight hurricanes.

Gray and Klotzbach predicted in June that there would be 15 named storms, including eight hurricanes.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which has a kind of two-part forecasting style, said there was a 67 percent chance that 2008 would produce 14 to 18 named storms and seven to 10 hurricanes.

Among the people who are likely to be happy about the end of the hurricane season is billionaire investor Warren Buffett. State officials this year agreed to pay his Berkshire Hathaway company $224-million.

In exchange, the company agreed to help the state out with cash-flow issues in case of a bad hurricane. Berkshire would have provided up to $4-billion in bonds if the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund had suffered more than $25-billion in claims.

Buffett's company gets to keep the $224-million either way, hurricanes or no hurricanes, but now it can be virtually certain it won't have to raise the $4-billion in bonds either.

Storms that hit
the U.S. in 2008

July 23: Hurricane Dolly, Texas. Aug. 19: Tropical Storm Fay, Florida. Aug. 15: Edouard, Texas. Sept. 1: Hurricane Gustav, Louisiana. Sept. 6: Hurricane Hanna, Carolinas. Sept. 13: Hurricane Ike, Texas.

It was a busy hurricane season, but not for Florida 11/11/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 12, 2008 5:13pm]
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