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Hurricane Season Hits Pause, But Isn't Over

hurricane maria hits newfoundland
Hurricane Maria heads toward Newfoundland today, but there are no storms behind it....for now. (Image credit: NOAA/NASA GOES-13 satellite.)

Mid-August marked an uptick in the number of tropical storms and hurricanes forming in the Atlantic Ocean, with one storm always seeming to follow on the heels of another. But lately, the tropics have quieted down.

Hurricane Maria, the third hurricane of the 2011 season, is expected to hit Newfoundland, Canada, today (Sept. 16), but there are no other tropical cyclones (hurricanes and tropical storms) after this one the radar. But don't think for a second that hurricane season is headed for an early exit, experts say.

"In no way, shape or form is this season over," said Dennis Feltgen of the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

If, for some odd reason, no other tropical storms were to form this year, it would be the earliest end ever for an Atlantic hurricane season. The earliest date in the satellite era of the last active tropical cyclone in a given year was Sept. 21, 1993. Hurricane season officially ends Nov.1.

Feltgen and others say we're not likely to set a new record this year.

"I would be incredibly surprised if Maria was the last tropical cyclone in the Atlantic," said Phil Klotzbach, an atmospheric scientist at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. "While it looks like we're going into a somewhat quieter period for a little bit, it's not that unusual to have a quiet period during an active season," Klotzbach said.

This season was predicted to be a doozy, with 14 to 19 named storms (which include tropical storms and hurricanes), seven to 10 hurricanes and three to five major hurricanes (Category 3 or higher). So far there have been 14 named storms (Nate formed shortly after Maria, but dissipated after striking Mexico shortly after it developed), three hurricanes and two major hurricanes (Irene and Katia).

The tropics seem to have quieted down as storms shift their birthplace to the west in the Atlantic basin. At the beginning of the season, tropical cyclones form near Cape Verde, off the coast of Western Africa. Toward the end of the season, they begin closer to the West Caribbean. This puts the southeastern United Sates in the crosshairs. October is typically an active month for that region.

Most of the global models suggest that another storm should develop in about nine days, Klotzbach said. And with the warm Atlantic waters and La Niña's return — which has been linked to active hurricane seasons — more big storms could be on the way.

"It's nice we got a little chance to breathe and collect our thoughts, but we are far from over," Feltgen said.

You can follow OurAmazingPlanet staff writer Brett Israel on Twitter: @btisrael. Follow OurAmazingPlanet for the latest in Earth science and exploration news on Twitter @OAPlanet and on Facebook.

Brett Israel was a staff writer for Live Science with a focus on environmental issues. He holds a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and molecular biology from The University of Georgia, a master’s degree in journalism from New York University, and has studied doctorate-level biochemistry at Emory University.