'09: Only 3 Hurricanes; So Far, the Mild Season Yielded More Tropical Depressions and Storms, with the Highlight Weatherwise Being a Waterspout

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Byline: JESSIE-LYNNE KERR

Poor Bill and Fred and now little Ida.

Did anyone notice Florida barely felt a stiff breeze or blasting of rain this hurricane season? The Pacific's El Nino ocean-warming phenomenon helped keep the season calm and provided relief from past hurricane poundings.

The only three (so far) named hurricanes of the 2009 Atlantic season are taking second place to the most memorable weather in Jacksonville - the waterspout in the St. Johns River on June 26.

About 5 p.m. that day, the spout formed just north of the Buckman Bridge and over the next 40 minutes moved leisurely on a 5-mile path north down the river before moving inland as a small tornado. During its brief life as a tornado, it damaged trees near Stockton and Post streets in Riverside and tore vinyl siding off homes. But there were no injuries.

As far as fierce storms affecting lots of people, the 2009 hurricane season that ends Nov. 30 pleasantly has been a bust.

No noted disruption of everyday life with massive power outages, flooded streets, downed tree limbs and electric lines and closed schools.

Concerning Ida, downgraded to a tropical storm, officials readied storm shelters along Mexico's Caribbean coast Saturday and told fishermen and tour operators to pull in their boats amid warnings that she could become a hurricane as she neared the resort city of Cancun.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Ida's winds strengthened to near 70 mph, just short of a Category 1 hurricane. A tentative forecast track predicted Ida could brush the U.S. Gulf Coast this week as a tropical storm.

Ida came ashore in Nicaragua as a hurricane Thursday before weakening and dumping rain on Central America. Thousands were evacuated but no deaths were reported.

At that point it is an open question as to its future course, said Al Sandrik, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Jacksonville.

"There are several large weather systems that could influence where it goes," he said.

The storm was of no concern in this area over the weekend, Sandrik added, but people should plan to keep abreast of things this week.

The 2009 hurricane season has been the quietest since 1997, said Steve Letro, National Weather Service meteorologist in charge of the Jacksonville office. In 1997 there were eight named storms, three of which were hurricanes with one a major hurricane. But the only 1997 one that had an impact on the United States was Hurricane Danny that made landfall on the Alabama Gulf Coast.

"The 2009 season is very similar," Letro said. Both Bill and Fred were major hurricanes but neither hit anybody, he said. "Fred was pretty interesting, because it blew up very quickly going from a tropical depression to a major hurricane within 48 hours. But then three days later it was dead."

Letro said it is too easy to blame the very mild hurricane season on El Nino.

Created by a warming of the eastern Pacific, El Nino produces wind shear and suppresses tropical systems.

"If we have learned anything from the past 30 years, it's that it is dangerous to blame anything on one particular phenomenon," Letro said. "Everybody wants the magic bullet, whether it is about global warming or sun spots or earthquakes. But there is no magic bullet. It is more like a shotgun shell with a lot of pellets."

Letro said there are a lot of other things in the atmosphere that can affect the atmosphere.

"El Nino was certainly in the mix but it was a combination of things," Letro said.

"During the 2009 season probably the most significant thing I saw was a large and very persistent trough of low pressure in the middle and upper atmosphere across the western Atlantic," Letro said.

When that happens, he said, a stronger than normal wind shear tends to be seen across the tropical Atlantic that keeps hurricanes from developing. …