Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

At the Halfway Point, a Season of Shrugs

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

At the Halfway Point, a Season of Shrugs

Article excerpt

STORMS: Roadblocks to formation linger, though activity may yet pick up

A relatively slow hurricane season could start to ramp up as the halfway point arrives today, but forecasters still expect an average or below-average number of storms.

Four named systems have developed in the Atlantic so far this hurricane season, below the six that have typically formed by Sept. 10, the statistical peak. But that does not tell the full story.

Most of those tropical systems were short-lived and the accumulated cyclone energy -- a measure that takes into account the total number of storms, their duration and intensity -- is just 55 percent of normal for the year.

Conditions have become somewhat less hostile to hurricane formation in recent weeks, and the National Hurricane Center is now tracking two low-pressure disturbances that have the potential to strengthen, including a collection of showers and thunderstorms near the Bahamas that could affect Florida.

But roadblocks to storm formation remain in place, including dry air and the potential for stronger wind shear in the main hurricane development zone.

Dry air, wind shear and cooler water combined to suppress tropical cyclone development during the first half of the season, said Phil Klotzbach, a research scientist with Colorado State University's Tropical Meteorology Project.

"It's been pretty quiet," Klotzbach said.

Wind shear's effects

The lull in activity comes despite the fact that an El Nino climate pattern never materialized as predicted.

Meteorologists expected El Nino conditions to take shape in the Pacific Ocean, bringing warm water to the eastern Pacific. That generates more thunderstorms, increasing westerly winds that extend east into the Atlantic Ocean. The wind shear helps limit hurricane development.

While the official definition of an El Nino has not been reached, Klotzbach said westerly winds have still been strong enough to hamper tropical-cyclone formation.

Those winds are the big wild card for the rest of the season, said Andy Mussoline, a meteorologist with AccuWeather.

If the wind shear picks up and a weak El Nino forms, as AccuWeather is predicting, it could prematurely end the season. …

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