Only two hurricanes have formed in the Atlantic over the past three months, and neither hit the U.S. - a somewhat unusual lull.
"I'm glad that I didn't have to go out and get anything - yet," said Lissette Galiana, who was shopping at a Wal-Mart in suburban Miami on Friday, around what is usually the very peak of the Atlantic hurricane season. "There's always a chance." Forecasters attribute the calm to a weak El Nino, the periodic warming of the central Pacific Ocean. It is producing strong upper-level winds out of the west that are shearing off the tops of thunderstorm clouds that can develop into hurricanes.
Of course, the season has nearly 2½ months to go, and forecasters and emergency planners are warning people not to let their guard down, noting that powerful hurricanes have hit in the fall, including Wilma, which cut an unusually large swath of damage across Florida in October 2005.
"It's less active, but there's still possibility of a hurricane strike," said Gerry Bell, a hurricane forecaster at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center in Washington.
NOAA's forecast just before the June 1 start of the Atlantic season called for nine to 14 named tropical storms, with four to seven of them becoming hurricanes.
No tropical storms took shape until Aug. 15, when Ana formed. Five more have developed since then, including Claudette, which hit the Florida Panhandle. Two of those tropical storms strengthened into Hurricanes Bill and Fred.
Bill never came ashore in the U.S. but churned up waves blamed for at least two deaths - one in Maine, the other in Florida. Fred, meanwhile, weakened to a tropical storm Friday while it was still far out over the Atlantic.
By mid-September of last year, there had been nine tropical storms, five of them hurricanes, including Ike, which plowed into Galveston Island, Texas, on Sept. 13, Gustav, which pounded Louisiana on Sept. 1, and Dolly, which slammed South Texas in late July.
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina smashed New Orleans in late August, and Hurricane Rita, the 17th named storm of the season, howled ashore near the Texas-Louisiana line on Sept. 24.
But no hurricanes at all struck the U.S. in 2000, 2001 or 2006. And during a less active period from 1970 to 1994, there were six seasons when no hurricanes hit this country.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency advises coastal residents to maintain kits of emergency supplies and other items that might be needed in a storm.
Venus Witherspoon of Miami keeps a disaster kit packed all year with candles, batteries, flashlights, canned food, a radio and about 10 gallons of water. She has maintained it since Wilma four years ago.
"You never know when you're going to need it," said the 54-year-old state employee. "The things you keep in there don't perish. I might drink the water, but then I replace it. I can always use the candles."
Like a lot of other Floridians, Witherspoon considers a disaster kit just part of the cost of living on the coast.
"I didn't have to use it last year," she said, "so I had it for this year."