The 2009 Atlantic hurricane season officially closed Monday.
It was a quiet year along the Southeastern coast for the fourth season in a row, but don't get too complacent: Next year could be whole different story.
No hurricane or tropical storm made landfall in the Southeast this year, partly because the notorious El Nino reared its head in the eastern Pacific Ocean as expected. That warm current phenomenon created shear winds that blew apart Atlantic storms. But only one of 17 El Nino events since 1950 lasted through more than one season, said meteorologist Jeff Masters of Weather Underground.
Meanwhile, sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic -- the power source for hurricanes -- remain high. For that reason, the early guess of Masters and other storm researchers is that the Atlantic Basin gets busy next summer.
With temperatures high, it can be an active season "regardless of what El Nino does," said Cary Mock, a University of South Carolina associate geography professor who has studied hurricane histories.
The computer models suggest El Nino will hang on through at least early summer, said Mark Malsick, S.C. Climate Office severe weather liaison. But model forecasting from this far out must be taken "with a very large grain of salt," he said. Even with El Nino, Malsick expects an "average" year next year.
In this "quiet" El Nino year, there were three hurricanes among nine named storms in the Atlantic; two of the hurricanes became "major" for a period of time, and two tropical storms made landfall in the United States. Tropical Storm Claudette made landfall on Santa Rosa Island, Fla., in August, and Tropical Storm Ida made landfall at Dauphin Island, Ala., in early November.
The two hurricanes that became "major," with winds of more than 110 mph, were Bill and Fred; both were well out to sea at the time.
While the Atlantic stayed quiet, the eastern Pacific raged. In those warm El Nino seas, 17 named storms formed, including seven hurricanes, four of them major. One was the second-strongest storm on record there, the 180 mph Super Typhoon Rick.
There's nearly a 1-in-3 chance that a major hurricane in the Atlantic will make landfall in the United States. It's now been four years since one did. The last time that happened was 2000-03. In between, the two-year span 2004-05 saw seven major hurricanes make landfall, Masters said.
"We remain in that active hurricane cycle we've been preaching about," said Dennis Feltgen with the National Hurricane Center. Researchers think 2009 was the 24th year in a cycle that tends to last 20-25 years.
It's been 20 years since Hurricane Hugo devastated the Lowcountry, the last major hurricane to make landfall in South Carolina. It's been more than 100 years since a major hurricane made landfall in Georgia, Mock said. "In my opinion, South Carolina is really overdue to be hit," he said.
"Yet again, we dodged a load of buckshot along the coast," Malsick said.