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Hurricane Season Ends With No Real Damage In Fla.

November 30, 2012

By Keith Morelli

Nov. 30--TAMPA -- The Atlantic Ocean hurricane season of 2012 went to bed early this year. Once again, a dreaded hurricane season, which begins on June 1 and ends on the last day of November, spared Florida.

"Florida has gone a record seven seasons in a row without having hurricane landfall," said Dennis Feltgen, spokesman for the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

"The previous record was five years, so we are just adding on to the record," he said. "I'd like to see it go nine or 10, but we have to go into the 2013 season thinking our luck eventually is going to run out."

The only full-fledged hurricane that came close to Florida was Sandy, which blasted by the state's east coast near the end of October and barged into the Northeast, causing major damage in New York and New Jersey.

Tropical Storm Debby formed in the Gulf of Mexico in June. The storm never reached hurricane intensity as it came ashore well north of Tampa, but its winds and storm surge did sweep sand from some beaches in Pinellas County.

And while Tampa braced for Tropical Storm Isaac in August, the storm was much ado about nothing. Isaac never reached hurricane status until it hit the Mississippi Delta, but it did cause enough worry for organizers of the Republican National Convention to cancel the convention's first day in Tampa.

The season had 19 named storms, seven more than average; 10 hurricanes, four more than normal; and only one major hurricane, fewer than the average three.

The one major storm was Hurricane Michael, a Category 3, which formed and petered out in the middle of the Atlantic, a danger to no one except those on ships at sea.

That's not to say the season was quiet. The Gulf and Atlantic are seeing more tropical cyclone activity, part of an active pattern that began in 1995, Feltgen said.

He said hurricane seasons are cyclical, largely unaffected by global warming, a controversial subject Feltgen did not wish to discuss.

"We're in an active cyclical pattern which can last up to 30 years," he said, "so we still have a long way to go."

If you think there are more storms forming in the Atlantic, the reason might be technology, he said. With state-of-the-science satellite imaging, Feltgen said, "we are seeing storms forming out in the Atlantic that we wouldn't have seen in years past.

"This year, we had several storms that were short in duration and weak in intensity," he said. They were documented but "went largely unnoticed."

Whether it was a good year or bad year depends on perspective, Feltgen said.

"If you were impacted by Sandy or Isaac or the two early season storms, it was a bad year," he said.

While some say hurricane activity is on the increase because of global warming, most climatologists discount that.

Scientists with the Science and Public Policy Institute in Washington mostly agree that tropical cyclone activity is cyclical, though there is some debate in scientific circles.

"Simply put, there is no general consensus on the matter," wrote institute President Robert Ferguson in a 2008 paper titled "Hurricane Threat to Florida, Climate Change or Demographics?"

He said it may be true that a warming climate may result in higher water temperatures in the Atlantic tropics, where hurricanes are born, leading possibly to stronger storms. But that is offset by another symptom of global warming: higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that could "hinder tropical cyclone formation and development," Ferguson wrote.

The real danger of hurricane season, Ferguson wrote, is damage to ever-developing coastal communities.

And for Florida's nearly 20 million beach residents -- who account for half of the coastal population from Texas through North Carolina -- there is a lot to lose during hurricane season.

University of South Florida professor Al Hine, a coastal geologist with the College of Marine Science, said building on sandy coastlines is just plain foolish.

"The coastline not a permanent line in the sand," he said. "It's a highly moveable shoreline that has been moving since we've had oceans. And we've had oceans for 4 billion years, maybe longer.

"We," he said, "are the problem."

Bill Smith of Indian Shores had a front-row seat from which to wave goodbye to 630,000 cubic yards of sand -- enough to fill more than 100,000 dump trucks -- that was swept from the Pinellas coast by Tropical Storm Debby.

Smith, a director with the Tallahassee-based Florida Shore & Beach Preservation Association, said erosion caused by Debby was second only to Hurricane Elena in 1985.

"When Debby passed by," he said, "the beach was really chewed into, big time. It was pretty bad."

But nature took care of itself, he said. By the end of the hurricane season, "A lot of sand came back. It had been carried offshore into a nearby sandbar. And through wave and wind action, it came back."

He admitted he and his neighbors get nervous at the start of every hurricane season. That Florida has avoided a direct hurricane hit in seven years isn't all that comforting.

"When you flip the coin and it comes up heads 20 times in a row," he said, "what's going to happen when you throw it the next time?"


(c)2012 the Tampa Tribune, Tampa, Fla.

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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