It has been nearly 8 years since North Central Florida has been directly impacted from a hurricane. Despite several active years since that memorable 2004 season, Floridians have dodged nearly every storm. But with the 2012 season season upon us, University of Florida Meteorologist Jeff Huffman says that no matter the forecast or what happened the year before, people should prepare the same.
The official forecast from experts such as Dr. William Gray call for near or slightly lower than normal activity in the Atlantic Basin this year, largely due to the developing El Niño. However, there appears to be less of an influence from this weather pattern in the Gulf of Mexico, especially early in the season. And history tells us that, in weather patterns such as this, Floridians should be prepared from day one.
The last time a storm came ashore north of the I-4 corridor was 44 years ago when Gladys hit Citrus County in 1968. Comparing that to the average return rate of 11 to 13 years for this part of the country, it’s easy to see that Florida’s Nature Coast is long overdue.
The current weather pattern across much of North America is in a state of transition, largely influenced by a diminishing La Niña and a developing El Niño. Water temperatures in the eastern Pacific Ocean off the coast of South America are no longer below normal, and forecast data suggests they will quickly rise to above normal by early fall. The recent drought and warm winter in North-Central Florida can largely be attributed to the La Niña pattern.
A developing El Niño is often associated with lower-than-normal hurricane activity in the Atlantic basin, especially during the second half of the season. The warmer ocean currents create stronger winds aloft that often rip storms apart or push them out to sea, away from our Atlantic coastline in the United States.
Dr. William Gray, Professor Emeritus from Colorado State University, has pioneered the research that led to the discovery of this correlation. He says there appears to be less of an association to tropical storm activity in the Gulf of Mexico from a developing El Niño.
“In El Niño years, the Gulf can get a cyclone early on. Like in 1957, it was an El Niño and we had Audrey.”
He further added, “The Gulf can get storms in El Niño years that the deep Atlantic can not get.”
And 1957 is just one of four years that have been identified by Dr. Gray where the weather patterns were transitioning in a similar fashion to what we have now. In three of those four years, a June storm came ashore in the Gulf of Mexico, including Allison on the very first week of the season!
So while the 2012 hurricane forecast may be rather inactive as a whole, largely due to a developing El Niño, there appears to be less of an influence from this weather pattern in the Gulf of Mexico. And history tells us that Floridians should be prepared from day one.
Floridians only have to look back 20 years to be reminded that it takes just one storm making landfall to make it an active season. Andrew was one of only four hurricanes that year, but at the time it became the costliest storm in U.S. history. U. F. Meteorologist Jeff Huffman will have constant upates on tropical developments all season on Florida’s 89.1, WUFT-FM and on WRUF-TV (Cox Channel 6 or Digital 10.1).