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Quiet Atlantic hurricane season — and turbulent Pacific one — near end

Hurricane season on the East Coast was quiet to the end, but it was a different story in the Pacific

With the hurricane season ending Sunday, many around the country might be thinking, when did it even start?

Of the eight named storms this year, six of them were hurricanes and only one of them, Category 2 Hurricane Arthur in July, made landfall on the East Coast.

The last time the Atlantic hurricane season was this quiet, President Clinton was starting his second term, "Titanic" was just hitting movie screens, and computer giant Microsoft made a $150-million investment in a little struggling computer company called Apple.

That was 1997.

There were eight tropical or subtropical cyclones in the Atlantic that year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Of those, three — Bill, Danny and Erika — graduated to hurricanes.

The Atlantic lull is a welcome respite for the battered stretches of the East Coast, which has seen devastating destruction in recent decades. In 2005, there were 28 storms in the Atlantic, 15 of them hurricanes — so many that the government had to dip into the Greek alphabet to come up with enough names.

Florida hasn't seen a hurricane since Wilma in 2005. But don't expect that to last.

"A lot of it is plain luck," said National Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen. "I'd love for us to go for another year, but we have to assume that it is not going to happen. This remarkable streak is going to end."

Strong wind shears — rapid changes in the wind's speed and direction — helped keep hurricanes from forming this season. Increased atmospheric stability and pockets of sinking air calmed the skies and reduced the chance of thunderstorms, Feltgen said.

The East Coast also got some help from West Africa, where monsoon and weather disturbances were near to below average this year. Those storms can roll up the African coast and become the seeds of hurricanes that form in the Atlantic and can hit the United States.

"If you don't have those disturbances to begin with, the odds are good you are not going to have hurricanes down the line," he said.

All six hurricanes that formed — Arthur, Bertha, Cristobal, Fay and the two major hurricanes, Edouard and Gonzalo — shifted north.

That is explained in part by distinct atmospheric patterns that have prompted the northern shift since 2006, mainly a trough of low pressure along the East Coast, Phil Klotzbach, a Colorado State University climatologist who develops seasonal predictions, told the Sun Sentinel.

In that time 25 major hurricanes with sustained winds greater than 110 mph have bypassed the United States. According to long-term averages, "we should have had roughly seven to nine major hurricane landfalls during this time period," Klotzbach said.

While the Atlantic had a placid time, the northeastern Pacific Ocean had the opposite luck, said Gerry Bell, lead hurricane forecaster at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center.

The Pacific hurricane season had its busiest year since 1992, with 14 hurricanes, including eight above Category 3.

Exceptionally moist and unstable air and a strong ridge of high pressure fueled storms for extended periods, Bell said in a statement.

In September, Category 3 Hurricane Odile slammed the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula and brought heavy rain to at least 10 Mexican states and swaths of the Southwestern United States. The storm killed at least five people after it hit the Baja resort areas of Los Cabos, Cabo San Lucas and La Paz.

Hurricane Marie shot huge waves at Southern California in August. Surfers from Newport Beach to Malibu rushed to swells between 15 and 25 feet high.

Fun fact for those keeping score: The government only decided to start naming subtropical cyclones in 2002, leaving one of the eight storms in 1997 orphaned without a name. Now both tropical and subtropical cyclones get christened with names. Subtropical Storm Nicole in 2004 was the first to be named.

javier.panzar@latimes.com

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