Atlantic Hurricane Season Ends With Whimper

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The mild 2006 Atlantic hurricane season draws to a close Thursday without a single hurricane striking the United States — a stark contrast to the record-breaking 2005 season, which killed more than 1,500 people and left thousands homeless along the Gulf Coast.

Nine named storms and five hurricanes formed this season, and just two of the hurricanes were considered major. That is considered a near-normal season — and well short of the rough season government scientists had forecast.

"We got a much-welcome break after a lot of the coast had been compromised in the last several years, but this is a one-season type break," said Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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In May, scientists predicted 13 to 16 named storms and eight to 10 hurricanes, with four to six of them major.

The 2005 hurricane season was the busiest on record, with 28 named storms, including 15 hurricanes, four of which hit the United States, including Katrina and Rita.

Bell urged people not to become complacent about the next season, which starts June 1. Forecasters say the Atlantic is still in an active hurricane period that began in 1995 and could last another decade or more.

This year, a warm-water trend known as El Niño developed more quickly than expected in the Pacific, squashing the formation of storms in the Atlantic and creating crosswinds that can rip hurricanes apart.

At the same time, upper-level air currents pushed most hurricanes out to sea, away from the U.S. mainland.

Only two storms, Tropical Storms Alberto and Ernesto, hit the U.S. mainland in 2006. Neither caused significant damage.

The season effectively ended with Hurricane Isaac, the last named storm, which dissipated Oct. 2.