BY KEN KAYE
FORT LAUDERDALE – Joining other weather teams, government forecasters on Wednesday called for a slower-than-normal hurricane season, adding fuel to the debate over whether the 20-year era of tropical intensity is finally drawing to an end.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts six to 12 named storms, including three to six hurricanes.
Florida has gone a record nine seasons without a hurricane strike, with the last one being Wilma in 2005. On average, the region is hit about once every six to seven years.
Don’t know where
“That doesn’t mean Mother Nature isn’t going to throw some pitches at us,” said NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan, who noted the forecast makes no attempt to say where storms might hit.
In April, Phil Klotzbach and William Gray of Colorado State University called for seven named storms; AccuWeather predicts eight named storms while Tropical Storm Risk forecasts 11. The average six-month season produces 12 named storms, including six hurricanes.
All cite the emergence of El Nino, the large-scale weather pattern that suppresses storm formation by creating strong wind shear in the upper atmosphere for their predictions. Additionally, the tropical Atlantic waters are about normal.
None of the teams say the era of tropical intensity, which tends to produce more hurricanes and more powerful ones each year, is at play.
The current intensity era started in 1995 and of the 20 seasons since, 14 have been busy or extremely active, including tumultuous 2004 and 2005. In 2012, the most recent busy season, there were 10 hurricanes, including calamitous Sandy.
Most scientists believe the era is the result of a natural cycle of warming and cooling in the Atlantic and that it can switch from a warm to a cool phase within a matter of one or two years.
Yet, even in a cool phase, powerful hurricanes can develop, as was the case with Category 5 Hurricane Andrew, which hit South Florida in 1992, an otherwise calm period.