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2001 Hurricane season may leave N.C. undisturbed

North Carolina residents may have noticed fewer hurricane warnings this year, and experts say that the chance of a major tropical disruption hitting the state are dwindling, despite the two months remaining in the 2001 hurricane season.

"The way things are going, North Carolina's not going to be an easy target to hit," said Jack Beven, a hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Fla.

Beven said that at the peak of the season--late summer--most potential hurricanes develop in the tropical Atlantic, where they can easily advance toward the Eastern seaboard. In October and November, by contrast, the western Caribbean Sea becomes more active in producing hurricanes. Storms developed in this area would be less likely to reach North Carolina.

Beven stressed that while the chances are diminished, "the door is still open" for major hurricane activity in the state this year.

If so, it would not be the first time that hurricanes hit the state this late in the year. Hurricane Hazel, a powerful category-four storm characterized by winds of up to 155 mph, landed near Wilmington Oct. 15, 1954. The storm caused 95 deaths and approximately $281 million in property damage, according to the National Centers for Environmental Prediction.

The strongest October hurricane on record was Hurricane Mitch, a rare category-five storm with sustained winds of 180 mph. That storm battered Central America in 1998, killing 10,000 people and causing $8 billion in damage.

Although many people perceive that this has been a relatively quiet hurricane season, eight tropical storms have already developed in 2001.

Two of them were considered major hurricanes, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The most recent storm to develop in the Atlantic is Hurricane Humberto, whose winds reached 100 mph Sunday night. But the National Weather Service reported that its winds have since weakened to 75 mph and said it should not pose a significant threat to the U.S. mainland. It is about 300 miles south of Nova Scotia and moving back out into the Atlantic.

August 9, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration increased its prediction of the number of named storms from nine to as many as 12--slightly above average. The NOAA predicted that two to four of those storms would develop into "major hurricanes," with winds of over 110 mph.

Beven believes that this prediction will hold up. "People call in August and ask, OWhat's wrong with the hurricane season?'" he said. "Don't judge the season by the early part."

Duke and the Triangle are not immune from the damage that hurricanes inflict. In 1996, Hurricane Fran struck the area with sustained winds of 45 mph and gusts of up to 80 mph.

Many local residents stock up on batteries and other emergency supplies at Batteries Plus in Raleigh, where owner Shirley Duehring reports that several consecutive years of hurricanes strikes or scares have caused residents to prepare for the worst.

"I think because of Hurricane Fran in 1996, nobody seems to care if they're inland or not," said Deuhring. "It's better to be safe than sorry."

Researchers at Colorado State University have presented some evidence to indicate that the world is entering an era of stronger and more frequent hurricanes. They propose that this new era of hurricanes could last 10 to 40 years, but experts at the National Hurricane Center have cautioned that these findings are based on limited evidence.

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