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NAPLES — Southwest Florida can breathe a collective sigh of relief: Hurricane season ends today.
Of the 19 storms that swirled across the Atlantic or surged up from the Caribbean, only Tropical Storm Debby in June and Tropical Storm Isaac in August threatened Southwest Florida — and they ended up delivering only glancing blows that caused isolated flooding, some property damage and lots of beach erosion.
"We were fortunate, just really fortunate," Collier County Emergency Management Director Dan Summers said.
That's not to say Collier County went unscathed.
The outer bands of Tropical Storm Debby spawned a short-lived tornado that had enough time to tear up pool cages and roofs and topple trees in an East Naples neighborhood north of U.S. 41 and Rattlesnake-Hammock Road.
The storm packed its biggest punch, though, for the county's beaches, eating into the sandy shoreline, leaving tall drop-offs and washing out sea turtle nests.
"It took out a lot more (of the beach) than I would have expected," Naples Natural Resources Manager Mike Bauer said. "I was very surprised after Debby."
Isaac, which had been headed straight for Collier County until it shifted its path to the west, delivered a second wallop to beaches that were just starting to recover from Debby.
The sibling storms lent new urgency to calls from beachfront hoteliers for the county to speed up beach renourishment plans and led to an emergency renourishment that's been under way since last week along two stretches of beach.
Crews are hauling sand to the beach from an Immokalee sand pit and spreading it on the dry part of the beach between Lowdermilk Park and the Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club, and on Vanderbilt Beach.
The $700,000 project is meant to make the beach higher, not wider; federal regulations don't allow putting sand out in the water without a more formal review. The widening project isn't set to begin until next fall.
Vanderbilt Beach Resort owner Mick Moore called this hurricane season a wake-up call: Even storms that aren't that powerful and pass miles offshore still can do serious damage to a beach.
"If we don't renourish real soon, we're going to be in real trouble," Moore said.
Debby didn't meet the threshold for a presidential disaster declaration, which would have made the county eligible for money to repair the bite Debby took out of the beaches.
Isaac did meet the threshold, and the county has submitted a preliminary estimate of more than $7 million in storm response costs and beach repairs. It could be months before the county receives any money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The money can't save this summer's sea turtle nesting season.
Sea turtles were on track for their best nesting season in years, but the storms washed out 80 percent of the nests on mainland county beaches and on Marco Island and about 42 percent of the nests in south Lee County.
Pre-season predictions called for a below- or near-average number of storms, thanks to El Nino, a warming of the waters of the tropical Pacific that increases wind shear over the Atlantic and keeps hurricanes from revving up.
As the season wore on, though, El Nino didn't materialize as predicted and the number of storms beat all the forecasts and came in above the historical average to boot.
An average hurricane season has 12 named storms, including six hurricanes with three of them being major hurricanes, according to the National Hurricane Center. Of the 19 storms in 2012, 10 of them were hurricanes; one of those was a major hurricane.
A persistent jet stream over the eastern United States helped push most of the storms harmlessly out to sea, National Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen said. Only two tropical storms and two hurricanes, including monster storm Sandy, struck the U.S.
For all its fortunate lackluster, the June through November season still was a record-setter for the National Hurricane Center, which has been keeping track of hurricane season since 1851.
With the 2012 season in the books, Florida has gone seven years without a hurricane landfall; the U.S. has gone the same length of time without a Category 3 hurricane or above hitting its coast. Both stretches are the longest on record.
"I'd like to go for eight or nine or 10," Feltgen said. We'll see how next year shapes up."