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article image2009 Hurricane Season may be another over-active season

By Nikki Weingartner     Mar 28, 2009 in Environment
Call it a prediction, an educated guess or luck but the 2009 preliminary prediction for Atlantic tropical activity is looking at another busy year. With May being the official release month, we may be looking at a stronger season that 2008.
Although the formal predictions are still months away, forecasters are looking towards 2009 as being an active season for coastal inhabitants spanning from Texas to Maine in the United States. But just how active? Based upon factors including temperatures of the Atlantic's surface, a research team out of Colorado State University along side Hurricane guru, William Gray, hypothesize that 2009 will be an "above-average" season.
On the heels of 2008's season that churned up eight active hurricanes and sixteen tropical storms (TS), a 2009 pre-season prediction is looking at 14 tropical storms, of which seven are expected to develop into full blown hurricanes, as explained in an article last December. Of course, this could all change as it did in the 2008 season, where the initial prediction of around 13 TS and seven hurricanes was revised in August to 17 TS and nine hurricanes. The predictors were overall one storm shy from hitting their average mark last year after their recalculations but were within the range of probability. 2008 was one of the most active season's on record, with 2005's 28 formed storms still in the lead as far as data-tracked and recorded storms. (see link for details regarding prediction factors used in the process).
Since the official season is still a few months away, beginning on June 1 and running through until November 30th, and the official prediction still approximately five weeks away, it continues to be a relative mystery on just how powerful these predicted storms will be. Last year's number of hurricanes not only showed high levels of activity, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration states that there was also a record number of "consecutive storms" that hammered the United States. Of the nine storms, 5 were ranked as a Category "3" or higher on the Saffir-Simpson scale which ranks intensity and probability for storm surge flooding. Hurricane experts and the NOAA do not make official seasonal predictions regarding landfall.
The Colorado team, led by Philip Klotzbach under Mr. Gray, believes this year's damage probability sits at three of the storms reaching a Category "3" or higher. At this level, a hurricane is considered a "major" hurricane packing minimum sustained winds of 111 mph (178 km per hour) and flooding of up to 8 miles inland occurring for land areas 5 feet above sea level and lower.
According to the NOAA's summary report for 2008:(pdf format)
The continental United States was struck by three tropical storms and three hurricanes, with all but one TS
making landfall along the Gulf Coast. One additional hurricane (Kyle) made a rare landfall in Nova Scotia.
Hurricane Dolly and Hurricane Ike hit Texas as Category "1" and "2" respectively, while Hurricane Gustav plowed into Louisiana as a Category "2." TS Edouard, Fay and Hanna were the offending minor storms. Hurricane Ike was the most destructive of those storms, spreading devastation across his path before wiping out Bolivar Peninsula and devastating Galveston Island (aerial helicopter footage) as a strong Category "2."
Despite putting the New Orleans levee structure to the test and squeezing the Gulf and Texas oil industry like an aluminum can, the year's storm production left behind a trail of tears in other areas as well. Cuba suffered major structural and crop damage costing upwards of $10 US Million as well as loss or damage to half a million homes, while Haiti suffered around 800 deaths by four consecutive storms: Fay, Gustav, Hanna, and Ike. Cuba also made the record books with three "major" hurricane hits, two by the same storm.
Texas and Florida are statistically the primary landfall locations for major storms of Category "4" or more and 36 percent of all hurricanes striking Florida. The deadliest hurricane still on record was the Hurricane of 1900, a Category "4" that killed around 8,000 people and brought sustained winds of 140 mph or more. However, this was due mainly to the fact that the advanced technology available today simply didn't exist so evacuation orders and prediction factors could not be evaluated.
On average, the hurricane seasons put out 11 TS, six of which turn into hurricanes with most major hurricane landfalls occurring during the month of September. However, the current "active" phase, similar to that which was seen in the 1950s and 1960s and which has been in play since the mid 90s, is expected to remain steady for another ten to twenty years, at which time William Gray states "we should enter a quieter Atlantic major hurricane period."
See here for a history of major hurricane strikes in the United States up til 2005.
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