Alison Hansen, left, and husband Peter brave the Norfolk, Va., streets… (Steve Helber / Associated…)
Reporting from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. — The 2009 Atlantic hurricane season is essentially over, even though it does not officially end until Nov. 30.
So says William Gray, Colorado State University hurricane forecaster.
Because El Niño has created strong wind shear over the tropics, "the odds of a storm are very, very small from this point on," said Gray, who closed the book on the 2009 season Thursday.
However, according to the National Hurricane Center in Florida, it's possible that the wind shear could relax over the coming weeks, and the waters in the Caribbean are still warm enough to support storm formation.
"The hurricane season goes until Nov. 30. Each day we get closer to that, it looks better and better that we won't see any more tropical activity," said center spokesman Dennis Feltgen. "But don't raid the hurricane kit yet."
Feltgen said that the hurricane season looked like it was over two weeks ago. But then Ida formed in the western Caribbean. And, he said, it wouldn't be unusual for a storm to develop in December.
"Tropical cyclones have been recorded in every month outside of the standard June-through-November period," he said.
But Jeff Masters, chief meteorologist of the website Weather Underground, said that since 1950, in years that El Niño has emerged only three named storms have developed in the Atlantic after Nov. 15.
El Niño is created by a warming of the equatorial eastern Pacific Ocean. It generates wind shear -- a change in wind speed or direction -- and instability in the atmosphere, which acts to disrupt storms before they can build and strengthen.
If the season has, in fact, shut down, it would be considered a breeze.
In all, there were only nine named storms, including three hurricanes. Two struck the U.S. coastline this year -- Tropical Storm Claudette, which wobbled ashore on the Florida Panhandle in mid-August, and Tropical Storm Ida, which hit Alabama on Nov. 10 after initially strengthening into a Category 2 hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico.
Only hurricanes Bill and Fred had winds greater than 110 mph.
The average season sees 11 named storms, including six hurricanes, two intense.
"It was a very inactive season," Gray said.