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Hurricane Season Is Past Its Peak (But Stay on Guard)

Hurricane Ophelia takes aim at Newfoundland.
Hurricane Ophelia takes aim at Newfoundland. (Image credit: NASA/NOAA)

This year's active hurricane season, already impressive in its activity, still has two months remaining. As Ophelia withers, the season seems to have hit another lull.

Are we past the peak of the season?

"From a climatological standpoint, about 75-80 percent of all hurricane activity has occurred," said Phil Klotzback, a hurricane forecaster at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. "So, yes, we are past the peak of the season."

Ophelia was the 15th named storm of the 2011 season, followed by number 16, Tropical Storm Phillipe, which is still swirling over the open Atlantic basin.

The 2011 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 16 named storms, four hurricanes (Irene, Katia, Maria and Ophelia) and three major hurricanes (Irene, Katia and Ophelia).

But just because the season is past its peak is no reason to let down your guard. Hurricane season isn't officially over until Nov. 30, and deadly hurricanes can strike at any time through then, and even after. The tropics could heat up in these final months as storms shift their birthplace to the west in the Atlantic basin.

At the beginning of the season, tropical cyclones tend to form near Cape Verde, off the coast of western Africa. Cape Verde-typehurricanes are Atlantic basin tropical cyclones that strengthen into tropical storms within about 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) of the Cape Verde Islands and then become hurricanes before reaching the Caribbean, according to the National Hurricane Center. Cape Verde-type hurricanes are most common in August and September.  In rare years, such as 1995, a Cape Verde-type hurricane will form in late July or early October.

Toward the end of the season, storms begin closer to the United States.

"Typically, late-season [tropical cyclone] activity occurs in the Caribbean or the subtropical Atlantic," Klotzbach told OurAmazingPlanet.

This puts the southeastern United States in the crosshairs. October is typically an active month for that region.

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.

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.