2005 Season Review

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After an eight year period of great luck from 1995-2003, where only three out of thirty-two major hurricanes that developed during this time frame, made landfall in the United States. In 2004, that string of luck ended with a devastating 2004 Atlantic Hurricane Season, particularly for Florida, which had four strong to major hurricanes over a span of about a month and a half.

But, 2004 would pale in comparison to what the 2005 season would bring. Not only where there a record number of storms and hurricanes, but there were also some of the strongest hurricanes on record including four Category Five storms. 2005 would end up being the most costliest, one of the most deadliest, and more memorable hurricane seasons ever. The big question that emerged from this season is whether or not, both government and ordinary citizens recognize the tremendous problem that confronts coastal communities.

2005--What A Season!

In summarizing the 2004 Atlantic Hurricane Season, I had mentioned that the 2004 season was a big wake up call to many living along the coast from Texas to Maine. Well, for those that didn't respond to that wake up call in 2004, the Atlantic Hurricane Season of 2005 should have served notice to them. Moreover, this memorable and record breaking hurricane season served as an impetus to many in emergency management that terrorist threats are not the only things they need to worry about. Hurricanes and tropical storms as well as tornadoes, flooding, blizzards, earthquakes and tsunamis are just as devastating to businesses, people, and economies as a suicide bomber.

The 2005 Atlantic Hurricane Season was certainly a record breaker in not only the basic shear numbers of 28 named storms, 15 hurricanes, and 7 major hurricanes, but also in other areas as well. There were a number of other firsts that this season accomplished. Thanks largely in part to Hurricane Katrina, it was the most expensive hurricane season on record. Just with Katrina alone, there was an estimated $75 billion dollars in damage. Add to that the fact that Dennis, Rita, and Wilma were also major hurricanes that made landfall in the United States, and the total cost in damages for the storms of 2005 balloons to $111 billion dollars, and costs could go higher. Costs could go up because there is still plenty more clean-up to do, especially in the area of New Orleans, which is still presently at the time of this report, mired in terrible devastation. The active season also had an impact on the price of oil, which reached its highest level in terms of current dollars since the Oil Embargo of the late 1970s, since five hurricanes: Dennis, Emily, Katrina, Rita, and Wilma had some sort of impact on offshore petroleum facilities in the Gulf of Mexico.

The 2005 season was also one of the most deadliest on record as well. Going down as the deadliest hurricane season since 1928 when the Lake Okeechobee Hurricane killed nearly 2,000 people, the monster year of 2005 left at least 3,800 people. In addition to Katrina, Hurricane Stan killed another 1,660 people in portions of Central America including Guatemala and El Salvador. Even some of the lesser known storms such as Tropical Storms Alpha (43 deaths), Gamma (41 deaths), and Delta (7 deaths) killed a good number of people. Speaking of Greek Alphabets, 2005 was the first season on record since names were given to hurricanes and tropical storms in 1950 where the original list of names designated for a season was exhausted and a secondary list of names was used. Besides the most named storms in a season with 28, this particular hurricane season spawned a record number of hurricanes as well with 15, which surpassed the previous record set in 1969 with 12.

One of the few records the 2005 season didn't break was the number of major hurricanes. Believe it or not, the seven major hurricanes that formed during the season still fell short of the record eight set in 1950. However, there was a record number of Category Five Hurricanes with four: Emily (reclassified as a Category Five), Katrina, Rita, and Wilma, and overall, five storm names were retired. The latter three went down as among the six strongest storms on record. Hurricane Wilma, which emerged in mid to late October, and made a landfall in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula before striking Florida's West Coast in Naples, became the strongest storm on record with a minimum central pressure of 882 mb. The previous record was held by Hurricane Gilbert with 888 mb back in September, 1988. Gilbert's lowest pressure was originally 884 mb, or 26.13 inches of Hg, but it had been re-evaluated. Hurricane Rita became the fourth strongest storm on record with 897 mb, which surpassed Hurricane Allen in 1980, which deepened to 899 mb.

However, Hurricane Katrina was the first to reach historic levels. Prior to slamming into the coastline near the coastal Louisiana community of Buras, and then later a second landfall along the Louisiana/Mississippi border, Katrina strengthened to become the fourth strongest of all time behind Allen, the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, and Gilbert with 902 mb. But, with the later emergence of Rita and Wilma, Katrina was pushed down to six on the all time list. Forgotten among the memories and shattered records by these three storms, 2005 also had two of the strongest storms ever during the month of July with Dennis (35th all time with 930 mb) and Emily (32nd all time with 929 mb). In addition, July 2005 had the most named storms ever for a month of July with five. October, which is usually when tropical activity begins to decline, particularly toward the end of the month, had six named storms, which tied a record set in 1950. Four of those storms were hurricanes, and two were major hurricanes.

Prior to the 2004 season, there had been 32 major hurricanes in the Atlantic Basin since 1995, but only three made landfall in the United States: Opal in October, 1995, Floyd in September, 1999, and Isabel in September, 2003. Over the two years of 2004 and 2005, there were eight. Florida, which was hit by a mean gang of four hurricanes in 2004: Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne, was impacted again by several more in 2005 including Dennis, Katrina, Rita, and Wilma. Thank goodness for Floridians both Katrina and Rita were in their formative stages while crossing the Southern portion of the sunshine state. With the four Category Five Hurricanes in 2005, the number of monster hurricanes reaching the optimal level on the Saffir-Simpson Scale climbed to six over the past three seasons. Isabel was a Category Five Hurricane for over 30 hours in the fall of 2003, and Ivan gained that status while traversing the Caribbean and Gulf in 2004. In the to 2003, Hurricane Mitch was the only Category Five Hurricane since the latest active cycle began in 1995.

The season got off to a noteworthy start with two named storms in the first month of the season, which had only happened twelve times before since 1851. The 2005 year also ended with a flourish as for only the second time since 1950, a tropical storm, Zeta formed on December 30th, Like Barbara in 1954, Zeta lasted into the early days of 2006 before fading away on January 7th. Atlantic Hurricanes also claimed new territory in 2005. Hurricane Vince became the first storm on record to form east of the Azores, and although it weakened to a depression, Vince became the first tropical cyclone on record to make landfall in Spain.

Another record broken by the 2005 season was the number of United States landfalls by a tropical storm or hurricane. There were a total of seven named storms that made landfall along the coastline of the U.S. from Maine to Texas. That number included five hurricanes and four major hurricanes. December had its share of activity as well. In addition to Zeta at the very end of 2005, there was Hurricane Epsilon, which was the sixth hurricane ever on record to exist in December.

According to information provided by Colorado State University, 2005 had a total of 103.25 named storm days, 45.25 hurricane days, and 16.75 major hurricane days. The net tropical activity for the 2005 season was 249% compared to the fifty year average from 1950 to 2000. Those numbers were a far cry from the initial projections given in December 2004 of 11 named storms, 6 hurricanes, and 3 intense hurricanes. Those numbers slightly evolved to 13 named storms, 7 hurricanes, and 3 major hurricanes in April, 2005, and then 15 named storms, 8 hurricanes, and 4 major hurricanes in the forecast issued just prior to the start of the season.

A sharp increase in the projected number of storms, hurricanes, and major hurricanes occurred in August and October when it became apparent that this season was on track to become an historic one. Similarly, NOAA had indicated in its pre-season outlook in May, 2005 that there would be between 12 and 15 named storms, 7 to 9 hurricanes, and 3 to 5 major hurricanes. That was upgraded to 18 to 21 named storms, 9 to 11 hurricanes, and 5 to 7 major hurricanes in August.

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The Forty Billion Dollar Toll

While 2005 set numerous marks and left indelible images and memories for many living in hurricane prone regions throughout the United States, three storms: Katrina, Rita, and Wilma were the major news stories from that season. As previously mentioned, all three were Category Five Hurricanes at one point, and each are ranked within the top six strongest hurricanes of all time. Katrina and Rita shared similar paths forming off the East Coast of Florida, crossing the Florida Peninsula as a minimal hurricane or tropical storm, developing in the Florida Keys, and blossoming into monster storms while moving over the warm and deep waters of the Loop Current in the Gulf of Mexico.

Both weakened to Category Three Hurricanes after being at Category Five, and made landfall along the Louisiana Gulf Coast. Some differences between the two storms were that Rita impacted the coast farther west than Katrina, and was a slightly stronger hurricane. Each hurricane disrupted the nation's oil supply, which helped drive the price of gasoline to record levels.

Katrina though was the most memorable storm of all in 2005. It was the first of this trio of monster hurricanes from the season, and it left death and destruction in its wake. It became the costliest natural disaster in U.S. History surpassing damages made by Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Katrina, which produced the highest storm surge ever in the United States with levels higher than that sustained in 1969 by another vicious killer storm in the Gulf (just about the same location), Hurricane Camille, the second ever Category Five Hurricane to strike land in the United States, was also the deadliest storm in the United States in almost eighty years.

The monster hurricane fulfilled a doomsday prophecy by many experts that projected that a major hurricane would strike the metropolitan area of New Orleans, which is the most vulnerable city along the U.S. coastline to a hurricane. New Orleans, which is several feet below sea level, and surrounded by water on a number of sides including Lake Pontchatrain, Lake Borgne, the Mississippi River, and the Gulf of Mexico, dodged several bullets in recent years including Elena (1985), Andrew (1992), Isidore and Lili (2002).

This time though, the Big Easy wouldn't be so lucky, and it would have catastrophic consequences not only for the people there, but also for politicians on the local, state, and federal levels. Katrina exposed a lack of coordination between state and federal agencies, tremendous bureaucracy, ineptitude, and most importantly, the lack of preparation that not only average citizens, but also state and federal officials had in regard to such a storm.

Furthermore, Katrina caused problems for a levy system that was originally built to withstand a Category Three Hurricane after Hurricane Betsy (1965) flooded New Orleans exactly forty years earlier. Rita did expose similar problems with preparedness as dozens of people lost their lives trying to flee the storm in a record setting evacuation from the Houston and Galveston area in Texas. Rita did cause some additional minor flooding problems in the Crescent City, but its major impact was felt in the marshes of Bayou Country in Louisiana, and impacted such cities as Port Arthur in Texas, and Lake Charles in Louisiana.

In addition to the problems to the levee and pump system in New Orleans brought about by Katrina, both this storm and Rita emphasized the need to replenish the marshes and wetlands along the Louisiana coast, which have been gradually receding over the years. Barrier islands, which are the first line of defense against a tropical storm or hurricane, have been giving way to the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi River. Consequently, New Orleans has become even more vulnerable to a hurricane. Not only does it have less to defend it from a hurricane, but the lack of sediment to feed the marshes and swamps of the Bayou, New Orleans will sink further below sea level.

Following Katrina, the city of New Orleans, which has served as a cultural center for many throughout the country, is fighting for survival. A massive reconstruction is underway, which starts with the pump and levee system that is supposed to protect the city. Without a repaired and fortified levee system, rebuilding is impossible. Others also strongly believe that without a revitalization of Louisiana's coastal wetlands, rebuilding the levees and the city isn't worth it either.

Rita even had some in common with the last of the three deadly sisters, Hurricane Wilma. Like Rita, Wilma was a powerful storm that was overshadowed by the impact of Katrina on the Gulf Coast. As a matter of fact, Wilma became the most powerful storm on record in the Atlantic, and got there very rapidly. Wilma's strengthening was perhaps one of the most dramatic intensifications a hurricane has ever experienced. The storm was one of the most destructive in the Yucatan, and caused the most devastation in the city of Fort Lauderdale since Hurricane King in 1950.

Wilma had raked the Mayan Riviera resorts of Cancun and Cozumel for several days before finally being picked up by steering currents and carried quickly to the north and east just to the south of the Florida Keys into Naples, which experienced its first landfalling major hurricane since Hurricane Donna in 1960. Prior to its second landfall, Wilma, which had weakened to a Category Two Hurricane with 100 mph winds, strengthened back to a major hurricane, and moved rapidly across the Sunshine State. After moving across Florida, Wilma briefly became a threat to the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast as forecasters indicated that it would link up with another low to form a powerful Nor'easter, but the storm moved to rapidly (53 mph) to make this happen.

Lost in the hysteria created by Katrina was the fact, that there were also problems dealing with the aftermath of both Rita and Wilma. Following Wilma, parts of South Florida experience similar problems that many in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast of Mississippi experienced in the wake of Katrina. Problems getting electricity and utilities back up, providing much needed supplies to those affected by the storm, and other things symptomatic of bureaucratic red tape. But, this and the devastation by Rita was mostly overlooked by the media. All three storms together have done one thing, made it imperative to be prepared for future hurricane seasons, which begins with Atlantic Hurricane Season 2006.

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More To Come?

As mentioned in the last paragraph of the previous section, if the 2004 Atlantic Hurricane Season didn't serve as a big wake up call to many living along the Gulf and East Coasts of the United States, the 2005 season sure did. The threat is no longer a possibility, it is reality. Within the past two seasons, the United States has been hit by 12 named storms, 11 hurricanes, and 7 major hurricanes. So, the luck we enjoyed for the first eight seasons of this active cycle beginning in 1995, has ended. And, with the ever increasing populations along our coastlines, a housing boom in the country that has not shown any significant signs yet of slowing down, and continued building by developers, the prospect of more hurricanes and intense hurricanes in the coming one to two decades is a very frightening one.

Insurance companies have indicated in recent months that an intense hurricane on the order of say a Katrina, Rita, or Wilma hitting the Northeast would cause damage far exceeding what occurred last August in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. People living along the coast as far north as Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine are facing the prospect of higher insurance rates, or no coverage at all. Prior to the beginning of the 2006 season, the probability of a major hurricane striking Florida or the East Coast stood at 64 percent. Some Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states such as Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine, are long overdue for a significant storm. Are they prepared? .

Back in December, 2005, Dr. William Gray issued his initial forecast for the 2006 season, and stated that this upcoming season would have 17 named storms, 9 hurricanes, and 5 major hurricanes. The projection of 17 named storms is the most ever predicted so early in the forecast cycle by Dr. Gray. Since then, these numbers have remained constant through forecast updates in early April, and late May. NOAA also called for similar activity in 2006 with 13 to 16 named storms, 8 to 10 hurricanes, and 4 to 6 major hurricanes. Two key significant factors are continued above normal temperatures in the Atlantic, and no indication of an El Nino episode, which means upper level winds will be favorable towards development.

The 2005 season is definitely one that will forever be etched in our minds because of the fact that it happened during an era of intense media coverage. The media not only did what they could to educate and assist the public, but it also played an important role in exposing the problems that occurred in the aftermath of several major storms. More importantly, it did a superb job for the most part in holding our government officials accountable for what transpired, particularly along the Gulf Coast and in New Orleans in the wake of Katrina.

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