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Low pressure systems have spared the United States this hurricane season

As the 2010 hurricane season enters its final weeks, this year is poised to go down as one of the most extraordinary in history.

For what didn't happen.

It has been one of the busiest seasons in many years, with 16 named storms, nine hurricanes and five major hurricanes packing winds of at least 111 mph. But the United States has been largely spared the type of catastrophic damage associated with hurricanes because of persistent low pressure systems dropping down from the north.

"I don't think there's ever been quite a season like this," said Jeff Masters, the director of meteorology for weatherunderground.com.

Since 1995, the United States has been hit by one in every three hurricanes that form in the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea or Gulf of Mexico, Masters said.

The strongest winds to hit the nation so far this year came when Hurricane Earl grazed North Carolina's Outer Banks. Tropical Storm Bonnie, the only named storm to make landfall in the United States, produced 40 mph winds in South Florida. Hermine, also a tropical storm, downed power lines and some trees in Texas after hitting land in Mexico.

"You could say we have dodged a bullet," said Dr. Peter Ray, a meteorology professor at Florida State University who independently studies hurricanes.

Of course, hurricane season isn't over.

With five weeks remaining, the greatest threat for development now lies in the western Caribbean, where warm, 84-degree waters are ripe for hurricane formation, said Daniel Brown, a senior hurricane specialist with the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

An average of 2.3 named storms form after Oct. 20, and hurricanes that develop in November nearly always make landfall because they form near land in the western Caribbean, Masters said.

"Certainly if you live on the Gulf Coast of Florida you're not out of the woods yet," he said.

But conditions are becoming less favorable for hurricane development.

Gulf waters are cooling and wind sheer is increasing because huge low-pressure systems from the north are pushing farther south in the Atlantic, Ray said.

He predicts the United States won't be hit by a major hurricane this season.

"The likelihood of having a hurricane impacting the United States diminishes now every day," Ray said.

Hurricane forecasters predicted this year to be above average, setting off alarm bells across the state and triggering fears among emergency managers of hurricane amnesia.

But forecasters could never have predicted that so many hurricanes would miss.

"[It] is a pretty good roll of the dice," Masters said.

Hurricane after hurricane, especially when most were forming off the coast of Africa, have veered north as they churned across the Atlantic.

Brown attributes the track to persistent low-pressure systems strong enough to knock the powerful tempests off their westerly track and push them east.

While powerful storms have formed in the Atlantic, no major hurricanes have formed in the gulf yet.

Mike Clay, senior meteorologist for Bay News 9, said the number of storms predicted doesn't really matter. It just takes one bad storm to make it a rough season, he said.

"To the general public,'' he said, "the numbers don't really mean anything."

Low pressure systems have spared the United States this hurricane season 10/18/10 [Last modified: Monday, October 18, 2010 9:36pm]
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