This week, Tropical Storm Dolly, the Atlantic's fourth named storm of the year, collided with Mexico in the southern Gulf. It was the first storm of any significance to form in the Gulf of Mexico this year, not surprising considering only four storms have managed to reach name status in 2014. By contrast, there had already been 14 named storms in 2005 by September 6, including Hurricane Katrina. In 2011, there had been 13 named storms by September 6. Those were obviously busy seasons -- in fact, some of the busiest on record. But this year is quite different.
While the first three storms of the year reached hurricane status, a relative rarity in the hurricane world, none have had significant impact on the U.S. And as we get deeper into the month of September, it is becoming less and less likely our part of the country will get anything other than mild tropical moisture before the season officially closes at the end of November.
In fact, when it comes to Texas, our hurricane season ends much earlier. Even in a busy year, it's rare to see a named storm hit the coast of Texas after the third week of September, and we are already through week one.
The reason for this early ending to a season with two months remaining is Mother Nature. The end of September is when we begin to see our very first cool fronts of the year. Certainly they don't drop highs into the 70s and make us all dig out the sweaters we wear like five times per winter, but they do cause enough of an atmospheric change to make our neck of the woods inhospitable to tropical storms.
Granted, this year has been pretty damn inhospitable to storms across the Atlantic. While the season may still reach earlier projections of eight to ten named storms, it's more likely we remain below those numbers even as we reach the peak of hurricane season, thanks to a number of factors.
For one, there is a fairly strong El Niño brewing in the Pacific. This weather phenomena super-heats ocean waters in the Pacific but produces strong trade winds that blow from west to east across the Atlantic Basin, drying the air and creating wind shear, both resulting in an environment not conducive to storm formation. One of the symptoms of those atmospheric changes is also higher sea surface temperatures. The warm waters of the Atlantic act as fuel for storms. Without them, and combined with stable dry air above, hurricanes don't stand a chance.
Add to all that the presence of dust blown out across the Atlantic off the Sahara Desert, and you have the makings of a pretty lame hurricane season...at least if you like the storms. If you are like the rest of us, thrilled with a quiet summer, these conditions make for a lot fewer worries from the weather.
With only about two weeks remaining for any significant storm formation to occur that might affect Texas, time is running out quickly. That doesn't mean you should drink all your bottled water and throw away the extra batteries, but you can probably breathe a little easier than you could around this same time in 2005 and 2011.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.