Eintime Conversion for education and research 04-08-2008 @ 12:48:35
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Hurricane season goes easy on USA

By Patrick O'Driscoll, USA TODAY

The 2007 hurricane season, with a month to go, is on track to leave the coastal USA relatively unscathed for a second straight year.

As a result, parts of the Gulf Coast and Florida still recovering from the deadly batterings of a dozen hurricanes in 2004 and 2005 have had more time to rebuild and prepare for next time. The severe drought in the Southeast, made worse by 2006's mild tropical season, was prolonged this year by similar conditions.

Just one hurricane and three tropical storms hit land this year in the USA: Hurricane Humberto and Tropical Storms Barry, Erin and Gabrielle. Last year, no hurricanes and two tropical storms touched shore.

This season actually is above the long-term average for the number of named storms. The National Hurricane Center has tracked 14 storms — four of them hurricanes, two of them major with winds 111 mph or more. In an average year, 10 storms are named, six of them hurricanes and two of them major.

"I hate to say 'lucky' yet, but I'm certain most people along the Gulf Coast are breathing a sigh of relief," says scientist David Levinson of the National Climatic Data Center. "And Humberto was minimal." That hurricane blew up suddenly in the Gulf of Mexico in September but weakened quickly once it went ashore in Texas.

Barry rained on drought-parched Florida and along the East Coast in June. Gabrielle barely brushed North Carolina's Outer Banks in September. Only Erin caused serious disruption. It flooded Texas and Oklahoma in August and was blamed for more than a dozen deaths.

Hurricane season runs June 1 to Nov. 30. Since 1900, only four November hurricanes have reached the USA. The last was Hurricane Kate, which hit the Florida Panhandle during Thanksgiving week in 1985. Today, the Census Bureau estimates more than 35 million people live in the most at-risk coastal zones, from Texas to the Carolinas.

This year's two major hurricanes, Dean and Felix, blasted the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America and were blamed for about 175 deaths. Both reached Category 5, the highest rating, with winds 155 mph or more.

Tropical Storm Noel this week also ravaged the Caribbean and triggered a storm watch Wednesday in southeastern Florida. The hurricane center says Noel is not expected to touch Florida, but the storm indirectly affected its Atlantic coast.

Forecasters had predicted an above-average year in 2007, with up to 10 hurricanes, five of them major.

"That's how nature works. These things happen," says hurricane expert William Gray, whose prediction of 17 named storms and nine hurricanes was off. Gray says he is "very surprised" that October had only one storm because the current La Nina climate pattern in the tropics should have allowed more tropical depressions from the Atlantic to grow into storms and hurricanes.

Contributing: Doyle Rice •

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