No Ana, Bill or Claudette yet this hurricane season

MANATEE — Ana, Bill and Claudette are names Floridians hope won’t be in the news anytime soon.

They will be the names of the first three Atlantic basin tropical storms of the season — if and when they ever develop.

The hurricane season, from June 1 to Nov. 30, has been calm so far, possibly a result of El Niño conditions, which tend to dampen hurricane activity, meteorologists say.

But local emergency management officials warn against complacency. They call it “hurricane amnesia.”

“We haven’t had any real activity since 2005,” said Steve Simpson, operations officer for Manatee County Emergency Management.

“We had a little activity with Fay last year, however, with that, people have a tendency to get ‘hurricane amnesia,’ and forget keeping a supply kit ready to go, a disaster plan everybody in the family knows.

“They forget they need a number up north where everybody knows to call, those are all things that should be part of your daily life year-round,” Simpson said, recommending people check stocks of fresh water, nonperishable food, gas and cash.

And just because the season starts slowly doesn’t mean it will continue that way, noted Larry Leinhauser, public information officer for the Manatee County Department of Public Safety.

“Because we have a slow start doesn’t mean we can’t end up with a pretty significant season, and complacency is always a concern, Leinhauser said.

“The danger of complacency is — initially the people in Fort Myers were thinking, ‘It’s going to be bad for Manatee County (in August 2004 during Hurricane Charley),’ and then, it doglegs and hit them. You can’t afford to let your guard down. I’m thankful no storms are threatening us at this point, but it doesn’t mean they won’t.”

A report issued Monday said the oceans are being affected by El Niño, with positive sea surface temperatures continuing to increase across much of the equatorial oceans, said meteorologist Ed O’Lenic, chief of the operations branch of the Climate Prediction Center at Camp Springs, Md.

“It indicates that El Niño conditions will continue to intensify during winter 2009-10,” noted O’Lenic.

In a year in which El Niño prevails, it’s harder for tropical storms and hurricanes to form.

“It generally is related to lower numbers of tropical hurricanes,” O’Lenic said Monday.

“Still, 1992 was also an ‘El Niño’ year, and while it does make it tougher for tropical storms and cyclones, it does not preclude something like a Hurricane Andrew,” he cautioned, referring to the Category 4 monster that devastated South Florida.

“We’re not hurricane-proof because of El Niño. The odds are reduced for numbers of hurricanes,” he said.