August has ended without an Atlantic hurricane for the first time since 2002, calling into question predictions of a more active storm season than normal.
Six tropical systems have formed in the Atlantic since the season began June 1 and none of them has grown to hurricane strength with winds of at least 74 miles per hour. Accumulated cyclone energy in the Atlantic, a measure of tropical power, is about 30 percent of where it normally would be, said Phil Klotzbach, lead author of Colorado State University’s seasonal hurricane forecasts.
“At this point, I doubt that a super-active hurricane season will happen,” Klotzbach said in an email yesterday.
The most active part of the Atlantic season runs from Aug. 20 to about the first week of October. The statistical peak occurs on Sept. 10, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Two storms formed in August and the hurricane center is tracking two areas of thunderstorms that have low to medium chances of becoming tropical systems within five days
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In the basin now, warm seawater and a decreasing amount of wind shear that can tear at the structure of budding storms mean conditions are ripe “for a burst of activity,” said Todd Crawford, chief meteorologist at Weather Services International in Andover, Mass.
“The very inactive season so far has been a bit of a head-scratcher,” Crawford said in an email interview.
Air temperatures from the Caribbean to Africa have been warmer than normal this year, reducing the instability in the atmosphere that drives storm development, he said. In addition, dry air is being pulled off Africa into the Atlantic, which also cuts storm activity, he said.
The forecast was for an above-normal season. The 30-year average is for 12 storms with winds of at least 39 miles per hour, the threshold at which they are named. Nineteen such systems formed in each of the past three years.
Colorado State, which pioneered seasonal forecasts, retreated slightly on its outlook in an early August update, calling for 18 named storms. Eight should be hurricanes and three of them major hurricanes, a reduction of one at each level, the researchers said.
The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration also kept its call for an above-average season in an Aug. 8 outlook for 13 to 19 named storms, six to nine hurricanes and three to five major systems.
For natural-gas markets, hurricanes have shifted from being major output disruptions, in part because so much production has shifted to land, to being “load killers” that cut electricity demand as temperatures drop, said Teri Viswanath, director of commodities strategy at BNP Paribas SA in New York.
The Gulf of Mexico is home to about 6 percent of U.S. natural-gas output, 23 percent of oil production and more than 45 percent of petroleum refining capacity, according to the U.S. Energy Department. In 2001, Gulf waters accounted for 24 percent of U.S. marketed gas production.
A quiet first half to the Atlantic storm season doesn’t mean the second will be the same, she said.
“It’s not over until it’s over,” Viswanath said.
Hurricane Sandy, which slammed into New York and New Jersey last year, developed on Oct. 22 and went ashore on Oct. 29. It killed at least 159 people and damaged or destroyed more than 650,000 homes in the U.S., according to a federal task- force report Aug. 19.
The 2002 season, the last to pass without a hurricane by the end of August, included Hurricane Lili, a Category 4 storm that caused about $860 million in damage and killed at least 13 people in the Caribbean and Louisiana from Sept. 21 to Oct. 4, according to the hurricane center. The first hurricane to form that year was Gustav, on Sept. 11.
“On Sept. 9, if there is nothing to talk about, you can call me and we can write off the season,” said Michael Schlacter, founder of Weather 2000 in New York.