Contrary to last season, the first couple months of the Atlantic Hurricane Season were very quiet. The first named storm of the 2004 Atlantic Hurricane Season didn't emerge until July 31st. However, from August 1st until the date of this report, there were seven more named storms, three hurricanes, two major hurricanes, which both became Category Four storms according to the Saffir-Simpson Scale.
One of those storms was Hurricane Charley, which became the strongest hurricane to make landfall in Florida since Hurricane Andrew in August, 1992. So, after a quiet start to the season, activity has really picked up in earnest, and now things appear to be on track for another above active season in the Tropical Atlantic. While August is usually a month when hurricane and tropical activity picks up, but this year, it has been extremely active.
The beginning of the 2004 Atlantic Hurricane Season was not one with great fanfare. There had been some tropical waves that developed throughout the Atlantic Basin. Actually, there are about a hundred or so waves that emerge every year so with only an average of ten named storms and six hurricanes per year, you can see that not many of them ever become greater than what they are.
However, if you recall from an article last year, the early portion of the 2003 season was diametrically opposite. July, 2003 saw quite an abundance of tropical activity with four disturbances including two named storms and a Category Two Hurricane in Claudette that struck the Northern Gulf coast of Texas with wind gusts over 100 mph. Couple that with an April Tropical Storm, and another storm in June, it all added up to a busy start to the season. Last season ended up with 16 named storms, 7 hurricanes, and 3 major hurricanes.
Well, things would finally get going late in July as a disturbance developed in the Western Atlantic, and became Hurricane Alex, which was not only the first named storm, but also the first major hurricane of the season. It would brush the Carolina coast with Category Two Hurricane intensity before moving out over the Gulf Stream, and increased its winds to 120 mph. This would just be a harbinger of things to come with as within about a week there was not only Bonnie, but also Charley, Danielle, and Earl.
Then, after Earl dissipated into an open wave, and Danielle turned out to sea and weakened, there was a brief lull for about a week to ten days before Frances emerged in the Eastern Atlantic. A powerful wave that came off the coast of Africa, Frances became a named storm during the evening of August 24, 2004 some 870 miles to the West-Southwest of the Cape Verde Islands right along the Intertropical Convergence Zone.
Several days later on August 27th, another depression formed, and it became Gaston a day later. Within 24 hours, yet another tropical system emerged as a tropical disturbance some 360 miles to the Southeast of Cape Hatteras in North Carolina became Tropical Storm Hermine.
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After having one of the most active August months in recent history, the Tropical Atlantic Basin is on pace for another above average season. It is already approaching the average numbers for named storms and hurricanes with eight and four respectively while already surpassing the average for major hurricanes with three: Alex, Charley, and Frances. As mentioned earlier, we had quite a few named storms with sixteen, but only had seven hurricanes, and three major hurricanes.
As of today, we have already reached halfway through the numbers attained last year with eight named storms and four hurricanes, and equaled the number of major hurricanes with three. Last year, there were three major hurricanes: Hurricane Fabian, Hurricane Isabel, and Hurricane Juan. Initial Estimated Damage from Hurricane Charley ($7.4 billion) already surpassed damage estimates from those three storms (less than $4 billion) put together.
Unlike 2002, the Atlantic Hurricane Season last year was very active even after the traditional last day of the season, November 30th. There were two named storms in December, 2003: Odette and Peter, which was the first time since records had been taken that such a thing ever happened. Knowing that there is a long way still to go in this season, we may very well see at least a repeat of 2003, or even perhaps something similar to what happened in 1995 when there was a total of 19 named storms.
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What to expect for the rest of 2004? Well, we still have yet to reach the statistical peak of the hurricane season, which is around September 10th. So, there is still a lot to go before the season officially ends, and there can even be activity beyond that date as well.
Moreover, as of the time of this report, the tropical pipeline across the African continent seems to be bubbling up with activity. This region is where many tropical waves are born, and eventually become the tropical storms and hurricanes we have to endure. Currently, there are two interesting complexes of thunderstorms heading toward the Atlantic. Will these be the next two tropical systems in 2004? We'll have to wait and see.
Nevertheless, anticipate at least an above average year with close to 15 named storms, and at least eight or nine hurricanes. Always remember though, it only takes one to hit your area to make it a tough season for you, your family, and your home. Andrew proved that point clearly in August of 1992. So, please be prepared.
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