Posted on 03 Dec 2012 by Neilson
For a record seventh season, Florida escaped being hit by a hurricane while less storm-prone areas such as New York, New Jersey, Newfoundland and the Azores got whacked.
Rick Knabb, director of the National Hurricane Center, expects Florida's lucky streak to end.
"As a Florida resident, I personally hope it's not next year," he said. "But we can't plan as if it won't happen. We have to plan as if it will."
Experts initially predicted the 2012 Atlantic season, which officially ends Friday, would be on the slow side. But it tied for the third busiest on record, with 19 named storms, including 10 hurricanes. It shared the title with 1887, 1995, 2010 and 2011.
Here's a look at the past season:
After going seven years without a hurricane, are the odds greater we'll be clobbered in 2013?
No, said Phil Klotzbach, the Colorado State University climatologist who develops seasonal predictions. Because hurricane strikes depend on how steering currents set up each season, the state is not "any more or less likely to be hit next year."
On the other hand, Florida, with its 1,200 miles of coastline, on average is struck once every year and half and South Florida once every five years.
Did Florida get hit by any storms this season?
Two: Tropical Storm Beryl struck near Jacksonville almost at hurricane strength in May. Tropical Storm Debby hit northwest Florida in June. Otherwise, South Florida dodged two bullets in Hurricanes Isaac and Sandy.
Isaac swerved into the Gulf of Mexico in August but came close enough to produce up to 15 inches of rain in parts of this region. It went on to hit the Gulf Coast, flooding more than 13,000 homes in Louisiana and Mississippi.
In October, Sandy drew within 250 miles of Miami, generating gusty winds and heavy rains and leaving major beach erosion. Sandy then hit the Northeast, causing widespread damage.
Were there any weather patterns that protected Florida?
No. The state was shielded by the timing of how storms interacted with steering currents and that was just luck, Knabb said. "If Sandy had formed farther west in the western Caribbean, we could have been its first U.S. stop on the way to the Northeast," he said.
Were any records broken this year?
Beryl became the strongest pre-June storm to hit the U.S. coast with 70 mph sustained winds, beating Subtropical Storm Alpha, which hit almost the same spot in 1972.
In forming on June 23, Debby became the earliest fourth-named storm to emerge.
And 2012 was the first year to see 10 hurricanes form with only one of those being major. Michael gained Category 3 status in September and remained in the middle of the Atlantic.
"I believe we didn't get as much major hurricane activity as we thought due to considerable sinking motion and dry air throughout the tropical Atlantic," Klotzbach said.
Why did experts initially think it would be a relatively calm season?
The experts thought El Nino, the atmospheric force that suppresses storm formation, would emerge by the heart of the season. It didn't, "which certainly surprised us," Klotzbach said.
He and William Gray initially called for 10 named storms, including four hurricanes, or about half of the actual activity. Even the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which uses a broad range of possibilities in its outlooks, initially underestimated the number of systems.
Why have the last three years been so busy?
Although some say global warming played a role, experts say it's mainly because of a natural cycle in the Atlantic that launched a period of increased hurricane activity in 1995. Such intensity eras usually last about 30 years. They also note that since the mid 1960s, satellites have allowed forecasters to spot storms that otherwise would have been missed.
Why did Superstorm Sandy cause enormous damage?
Mainly because its expansive circulation combined with high tides, producing a potent storm surge along the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast coasts.
Why didn't the hurricane center issue a hurricane warning for Sandy?
Protocol would have dictated that a hurricane warning be discontinued when Sandy became non-tropical, as it was expected to do before landfall. But that could have confused residents, Knabb said.
"The idea was to put up warnings that we knew wouldn't have to change," he said.
What was the biggest lesson learned from Sandy?
That storm surge can be devastating, Knabb said. For that reason, he would like to see a storm surge warning -- separate from all other warnings -- developed within the next few years.
"It just goes to show you don't need a major hurricane or a hurricane to have significant impacts," he said.
What can Florida residents do to be better protected next year?
The off-season is a "golden opportunity" for residents to make sure their insurance is in order and gird homes with shutters and generators, Knabb said.
"Just don't plan for 2013 being as hurricane free as the last few years have been," he said.