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USA untouched by hurricanes so far, but season has more than two months left
Updated 9/20/2006 4:45 PM ET
MIAMI (AP) This was supposed to be another brutal hurricane season. But so far, the USA has been spared, and forecasters say one big reason is a low-pressure area off the East Coast that has been a shield against which storms just bounce off.
Still, forecasters warned that there are two months left in the season, and September and October are typically among the busiest months.
Two main factors have contributed to the coastline calm: A high-pressure area in the Atlantic known as the Bermuda High last year was centered close to Bermuda, but now is positioned hundreds of miles to the east. That, in turn, has made room for a low-pressure area to develop in the Atlantic between the Carolinas and Bermuda.
Weather Guys blog post: High pressure steers Atlantic storms
"Instead of high pressure pushing hurricanes toward the United States there has been low pressure that repels hurricanes," said Lixion Avila, a forecaster at the National Hurricane Center.
Unlike high-pressure's clockwise swirling, low pressure circulates counterclockwise and is associated with winds that help push storms to the north and northeast. It has been in place since late August and played a role in keeping Hurricanes Florence, Gordon and Helene away from U.S. shores.
Beyond that, though, Pennsylvania State University meteorologist Paul Knight said that the season has simply not been as frenzied as last year. And fewer Atlantic storms mean fewer chances one will actually strike the United States.
Last year was the busiest Atlantic season on record, with 28 named storms, 17 of which had already formed by this point. Two hurricanes Dennis and Katrina had already struck by this time last year, and Rita hit on Sept. 24.
This year, forecasters originally estimated up to 16 named storms and later trimmed their projection by one. There have been eight named storms so far. Tropical Storms Alberto and Ernesto hit Florida this year, but did little damage.
Federal scientists have said that weak El Niño conditions this year have also inhibited hurricane development by increasing crosswinds over the Caribbean. The winds can rip storms apart or stop them from forming.
Still, forecasters warned that the Bermuda High could move closer to shore, or the low-pressure system could weaken before the end of the season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.
"Don't be fooled by anybody that they know what's going to happen in two weeks," Avila said. "We don't know if this pattern is going to go or stay."
Knight said most of the East Coast, from the Outer Banks of North Carolina to Maine, should be safe from a hurricane this year. But Florida, hit hard by the previous two hurricane seasons, is a different story.
"You're really never safe until late November," Knight said.
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