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  1. Hurricane

Hurricane season closes without a direct hit for Florida

The season’s strongest storm, Hurricane Dorian, had Florida in sight but turned north before making landfall. The storm decimated the Bahamas.
Hurricane Dorian left homes in ruin in the Bahamas. [FERNANDO LLANO  |  AP]
Hurricane Dorian left homes in ruin in the Bahamas. [FERNANDO LLANO | AP]
Published Nov. 30

The 2019 Atlantic hurricane season officially ends today. After three consecutive years of being hit by a hurricane, Florida was spared this year from a direct strike.

RELATED: Read all the Tampa Bay Times’ hurricane coverage here

But that doesn’t mean the Sunshine State escaped entirely.

Record-breaking Hurricane Dorian held the state hostage for a week in August as Floridians and vacationers alike watched with anticipation as the storm stalled over the Bahamas, then took a turn north. The storm skirted the entire Atlantic coast, bringing high winds, storm surge and storm warnings from Florida to New England.

RELATED: Stunning shots of Hurricane Dorian from above, inside and below the storm

In all, the season finished with above-average activity. There were 18 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes, or storms that were Category 3 or stronger with sustained wind speeds of at least 111 mph.

An average season has about 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major storms.

Forecasters predicted early on that an El Niño would develop. El Niño is a phenomenon of warmer-than-average water in the tropical Pacific Ocean that creates strong wind shear over the tropical Atlantic. While the warmer water often means stronger Pacific hurricane seasons, El Niño’s effect on the Atlantic is that those winds tend to rip storms apart before they can coalesce into dangerous cyclones.

“Unfortunately El Niño didn’t develop," said National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration hurricane scientist Gerry Bell, which left the tropical Atlantic vulnerable to hurricane formation.

RELATED: Strong hurricanes can produce “stormquakes” offshore, new study finds

The season started off slow but early. Subtropical Storm Andrea formed in the Atlantic in May before the June 1 official start of hurricane season.

The second storm came off the Florida Panhandle. Hurricane Barry began as thunderstorms over Kansas, according to the National Hurricane Center, then strengthened into a cyclone in the Gulf of Mexico south of Destin. It later circled back and barreled into the Louisiana coast.

It was one of five storms to form in the Gulf this year, tying a record. Bell said even though Gulf waters are extremely warm, up to 86 degrees — and hurricanes feed off warm water — there tends to be a lot of wind shear. Winds over the Gulf were down this year, he said.

RELATED: The Driftwood: In the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, a family looks to rebuild in a ruined town

But the headline of the season was Hurricane Dorian. From its origins deep in the Atlantic Ocean, it eyed Florida. As it approached, wind models showed it traversing the state, and for days it seemed it might end up right on top of Tampa Bay.

Instead, the behemoth of a storm slowed to a near stop on top of the Bahamas, drowning it in surge and lashing it with wind.

It was the strongest storm on record to hit the island nation. It killed more than 60 people there, according to a government tally.

Then the storm turned north, sparing Florida the worst of it.

Even though the eye wall never touched the state, the storm had an effect. Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a state of emergency for 26 counties. Some were even given mandatory evacuation notices. The storm also altered sporting events. The football game set in Jacksonville between Florida State University and Boise State University was moved, and the Rays chose to play a double-header at Tropicana Field so the storm wouldn’t cancel a game later in the week.

There were three hurricane-related deaths in Orange County, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

With no landfall, 2019 was the first year since 2016 that Florida wasn’t hit by a hurricane. Category 1 Hurricane Hermine made landfall in the Big Bend area in 2016, whipping up storm surge along the state’s Gulf Coast. In 2017, Hurricane Irma, the strongest storm ever recorded in the open Atlantic, made landfall in the Keys and on Marco Island as a Category 4. And last year, Hurricane Michael made landfall near Mexico Beach, the first Category 5 to the hit the continental U.S. since 1992 when Hurricane Andrew decimated Homestead, and the strongest ever recorded to hit the Panhandle.

RELATED: Census is yet another worry for Florida Panhandle after Hurricane Michael

In previous years, scientists debated whether the Atlantic remained in a period of hyperactivity that began in 1995. Bell said this season, with its high storm total, should close the book on that debate.

“There’s no indication that we’re out of it yet."

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Hurricane Dorian left homes in ruin in the Bahamas. [FERNANDO LLANO  |  AP]
    The season’s strongest storm, Hurricane Dorian, had Florida in sight but turned north before making landfall. The storm decimated the Bahamas.
  2. The latest advisory from the National Hurricane Center shows the storm moving toward the northeast out to sea. [National Hurricane Center]
    An early morning advisory shows the storm turning toward the northeast.
  3. Tropical storm Sebastien has developed in the Atlantic and now has an 80 percent chance of turning into a tropical cyclone. [National Hurricane Center] [National Hurricane Center]
    Forecasters with the National Weather Service do not expect the storm to threaten land.
  4. Forecasters with the National Weather Service estimate that the system has a 50-percent chance of developing into a tropical or sub-tropical depression during the next 48 hours. [National Weather Service]
    Forecasters with the National Weather Service expect the system to develop into a depression by mid-week.
  5. Mos Antenor, 42, drives a bulldozer while clearing the road after Hurricane Dorian Mclean's Town, Grand Bahama, Bahamas on Sept. 13. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa) [RAMON ESPINOSA  |  AP]
    The damage estimate comes from a new report by the Inter-American Development Bank.
  6. The projected path of Tropical Storm Olga [National Hurricane Center]
    The storm is expected to merge with a cold front and become post-tropical before impacting Louisiana late tonight.
  7. The low-pressure system in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico has a 60-percent chance of development over the next two to five days. [National Hurricane Center]
    Most models don’t project the system to become anything stronger than a tropical depression. And a short-lived one, at that.
  8. The projected path of Nestor [National Hurricane Center]
    Nestor is expected to dump two to four inches of rain in Tampa Bay, along with the threat of tornadoes.
  9. The projected path for Tropical Storm Nestor, according to the National Hurricane Center. [National Hurricane Center]
    Tampa Bay should expect wind and rain tonight into Saturday morning, according to the National Weather Service
  10. The sun sets over a slab which once served as a foundation for a home on Mexico Beach in May. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    Area leaders fear lower population numbers will lead to reduced federal funding and political representation.
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