The sights and sounds are all too familiar. The 2004 hurricane season was horrific and spectacular in every aspect, with four hurricanes striking Florida. Experts are saying this year could be equally busy.
Jim Elsner with the FSU Department of Geography says, “I think we're going to see an active season again. I would expect at least seven to nine hurricanes for 2005, and I do expect to see one or two hurricanes on our coasts; more likely two than one, so I'd say we're in for some storms this year."
Elsner says it's difficult to know if any of those predicted hurricanes would slam Florida, but there are disturbing early signals such as a phenomenon called the North Atlantic Oscillation (or NOA for short) that might send storms to Florida again.
Elsner says, "The NAO has been negative for the first 15 days of the month, so if that continues I would expect an increased probability of Florida being hit again."
So just how do these hurricanes get started? Meteorologists at the National Weather Service are constantly looking for the first signs of a hurricane.
Paul Duval, meteorologist-in-charge for the National Weather Service, says, "Hurricanes form out of an existing disturbance, a weak disturbance in the tropical Atlantic or tropical Eastern Pacific Oceans."
Duval says these disturbances gradually acquire strength and become tropical depressions, which are closed circulations with winds less than 39 mph. If the water is above 79 degrees and the winds above the hurricane are light, then it can strengthen into a tropical storm and eventually a hurricane.
Hurricanes pack winds of greater than 74 mph. The size and strength of the high to the north determines if a hurricane moves out to sea or slams into land.
Fortunately, we avoided the very worst of the 2004 hurricane season. The last big hit around here was Hurricane Kate in November 1985, and according to Duval, Kate was mere child's play compared with what we could some day see.
Paul Duval says, "If folks here remember the way things were with Kate, it would be much, much worse, and that will happen eventually."
And when the time comes, we'll hopefully be prepared. Tomorrow we'll examine the many threats hurricanes pose and what you should have on hand before this year's season gets underway.