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Hurricane season predictions are in; 2012 should be 'milder'

Florida homeowners dread this time of year. For some, hurricane predictions may be harder to take than the storms themselves. It may be the sense of helplessness in the face of nature. It may be the fear of reliving that day in 2005 when the homeowner discovered too late that hurricane insurance benefits wouldn't cover all the damage. It may be memories of the "chicken little" warnings over the past two years.

However much they may not want to know, Florida homeowners still pay close attention to annual hurricane predictions. This year, meteorologists say the season will be below average. The hurricane season begins June 1.

There are a number of reasons for the mild forecast. First, the Atlantic Ocean's waters are cooler than usual this year, but parts of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean are warmer. The warmer surface temperature may sap the ocean's energy to fuel storms -- water temperature is a significant factor in the strength of storms. With conditions as they are, there may be storms, but they will not be as intense.

The U.S. is coming out of last fall's La Niña, the weather pattern most often associated with mild winters. As the pattern exits, an El Niño will take its place in June or July. If the El Niño is true to form, wind shear will increase across the tropical Atlantic, suppressing the development of any tropical storms. These and other factors lead the meteorologists to predict fewer and milder storms this year.

Last year, four major hurricanes, seven hurricanes and 19 named storms occurred. This year, we should expect only two major hurricanes with winds reaching more than 110 mph; four typical hurricanes; and 10 named storms. On average, two major hurricanes, six hurricanes and 11 named storms occur.

Still, a prediction of fewer storms should not lull anyone into a false sense of security. Those of us who remember Hurricane Andrew in 1992 know only too well that it takes just one storm to level South Florida, to take 65 lives and to cause $26 billion dollars in damage.

Source: EarthSky, "2012 Atlantic hurricane season outlook," Matt Daniel, April 09, 2012

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