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Hurricane Season's Biggest Surprise

« Previous Page06/12/2013


And that’s why it’s a mistake for South Floridians not to worry about tropical cyclones until after those monsters start boiling up off the African coast in August and September. Those early- and late-season storms are dangerous, too.

Those that form in the Gulf of Mexico often move northeast and across the Florida peninsula, bringing that area under the storm’s front-right quadrant, its most powerful part. And that can mean heavy rainfall, or tornadoes or other wind events.

The calm first two months of hurricane season is a period forecasters sometimes call the “preseason.” It averages one hurricane every other year. The most likely starting points are the western Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.

“Those are the most-favored areas for development because the water temperatures in the early part of the season are warm enough, and the rest of the Atlantic basin is still not there yet,” National Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen said Friday.

The height of the season comes because storms feed on warm water, and water is at its warmest in August and September. Also, wind shear — the difference between high and low winds, which tends to sap storms’ strength — is at its weakest. Plus, lower levels of the atmosphere are dripping with moist air.

August, September and October have accounted for more than 80 percent of the 600-plus hurricanes recorded since 1866. June and July account for only about 9 percent.

Those three months in the heart of the season account for about 95 percent of all major hurricanes, those with top sustained winds of at least 111 mph. And the six weeks starting in mid-August are when more than half of all hurricanes have happened.

But late-season storms also can do damage.

“As we get to the end of the season, the Atlantic’s cooling off, (and) the most favored areas of development shift back to the western Caribbean and specifically the eastern Gulf,” the hurricane center’s Feltgen said. “The western Gulf’s starting to shift already; you’re starting to get increased wind shear.”

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