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Hurricane season: Zero and counting, with Humberto threatening to cross threshold

| Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013, 7:21 p.m.

WASHINGTON — After a couple of years of wild, deadly and costly weather, the nation is mostly getting a lucky break this year.

So far.

With summer almost over, not a single hurricane has formed. Tornado activity is down around record lows, while heat waves are fewer and milder than last year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Meteorologists credit luck, shifts in the high-altitude jet stream and African winds and dust.

“It's been great,” said Deke Arndt, climate monitoring chief for NOAA's National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C.

There have been eight tropical storms in the Atlantic. Not one has reached the 74 mph wind threshold to become a hurricane, though Tropical Storm Humberto off the coast of Africa is likely to become one soon.

If Humberto stays a tropical storm through 8 a.m. Wednesday, it will be the latest date for the first hurricane of the season since satellites started watching the seas in 1967, according to the National Hurricane Center.

This year, overall storm activity in the Atlantic — an index that combines number and strength — is about one-fifth the average. That's despite warmer-than-normal seas, which usually fuel storms.

It has been a record of nearly eight years since a major hurricane — one with winds of 110 mph — blew ashore in the United States. That was Hurricane Wilma, which hit Florida in October 2005.

Meteorologists say dry, stable and at times dusty air blowing from Africa is choking storms instead of allowing them to grow. On top of that, shifts in the jet stream — the same river of air some blame for wild weather in 2011 and 2012 — have caused dry air and wind shear, which interfere with storm formation, said Gerry Bell of NOAA's Climate Prediction Center.

Plain, old random chance is a big factor, said MIT meteorology professor Kerry Emanuel.

Several past seasons have started off slowly and ended busy and deadly — 1967, 1984, 1988, 1994 and 2002, said Ryan Maue, a meteorologist with Weather Bell. Hurricane season starts in June and runs through November.

“All it takes is one bad hurricane to ruin an otherwise quiet hurricane season,” said Weather Underground meteorology director Jeff Masters. “Recall that last year's worst storm — Hurricane Sandy — didn't occur until the third week of October.”

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