Tough year forecasting hurricanes

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Why did the experts get the hurricane season outlook so wrong? Twelve forecast teams predicted an average of 16 named storms, including eight hurricanes, four major. Yet this season, which ends today, saw only 13 named storms, including two mediocre Category 1 hurricanes.

"Pretty much everyone who tried to forecast the number of hurricanes bombed," said Jeff Masters, chief meteorologist of Weather Underground, an online weather site.

Forecasters say they didn't foresee that a large-scale atmospheric wind pattern would blanket the tropical Atlantic with dry, sinking air. And they didn't anticipate that Saharan dust would further dry out the atmosphere. Finally, they failed to anticipate that cooler waters would infiltrate the Atlantic in the spring; that helped stymie storm formation and keep those that did emerge relatively weak and short-lived.

"I think the magnitude of the cooling that occurred in the Atlantic was somewhat overlooked by ourselves and others," said Colorado State University climatologist Phil Klotzbach. "It was one of the largest busts for our research team in the 30 years we've been issuing this report."

Tropical storm Andrea, the season's first, was the only named storm to hit the U.S. coastline this year. It initially hit Northwest Florida in June, then generated tornadoes, heavy rain and flooding to portions of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, causing one fatality.

Otherwise, most of this year's systems remained at sea and didn't last long.

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