Hurricanes: So where are they?

Bill Gray, the Colorado State University legend who was among the first to try his hand at long-range hurricane forecasting, once remarked that he had had a bell in his office that he would always ring on Aug. 20.

Why? In the Atlantic Basin tropical-storm season, that typically was the date "when things really get going," Gray said.

Gray and colleague Philip Klotzbach were among those who predicted that this would be a monster season, with the total way-above average numbers of tropical storms, those with winds of 39 m.p.h. or better, and hurricanes, with winds of at least 74 m.p.h.

Thus far, however, the season has been a dud in the Basin, which includes the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea -- not that anyone who lives or owns property along the coasts is complaining.

Only three named storms have formed so far, and right now nothing is happening in the tropics. Government forecasters, who also called for a busy season, and Klotzbach recently have issued public statements saying, essentially, just wait.

The record suggests that's reasonable advice. Let's compare what hasn't happened this year with the starts of four seasons in which tropical-storm numbers ended up above average -- 1995, 1998, 1999, and 2005.

The extreme 1995 and 2005 seasons to off to hellacious starts. By contrast, both the 1998 and 1999 seasons started tepidly before becoming quite active. 

By this point in 1995, six named storms had formed, three of those hurricanes.The devastating Opal wasn't even a gleam in the atmosphere's eye, not becoming a hurricane until Oct. 2. In 2005, the year of Katrina, nine named storms already had popped up by mid-August.

By the time the season 1995 season had ended, a total of 19 named storms had formed, a number in a league with the forecasting consensus for this season. As for 2005, the total was an off-the-charts 28. The average is 11.

The 1998 season endedwith 14 named storms, but it was mighty slow to get going. It did not produce its second storm -- Bonnie -- until Aug. 20.

As for 1999, it was almost a '98 rerun. Gray made his "bell" comment to former colleague Matt Golas back in August 1999, when storm No. 2, Bret, didn't earn a name until Aug. 19.

Ten more would follow, and one of them was a storm named Floyd.