The fact that no hurricanes and only two tropical storms (Claudette and Ida) made U.S. landfall this year may be the key takeaway of the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season, but Colorado State University hurricane forecastersÃ‚ remind us to take a long-term view. In addition to a large increase in U.S. hurricane destruction in 2004, 2005 and 2008, the forecasters note that the Atlantic has seen a very large increase in major hurricanes over the past 15 years. There were an average 3.9 major hurricanes per year during the 1995-2009 period, compared to an average of 1.5 per year in the prior 25-year period (1970-1994). The CSU team says the increase is primarily the result of a multi-decadal cycle in the Atlantic, and is not directly related to global sea surface temperatures or CO2 increases. The final 2009 season tally shows a total of nine named storms occurred, the fewest named storms in a season since 1997. There were three hurricanes, including two major hurricanes. The CSU team notes that following seven major hurricane landfalls in 2004-2005, the U.S. has not witnessed a major hurricane landfall in the past four years. However, the four consecutive years between 2000-2003 also experienced no major U.S. hurricane landfalls. I.I.I. hurricane facts and stats show that eight of the top 10 most costly hurricanes in U.S. history have occurred since 2004.
Beware the Ida of November — Hurricane Ida, that is. Though it is forecast to weaken further before making U.S. landfall, Hurricane Ida is currently a Category One hurricane and moving across the Gulf of Mexico near 16 mph. A hurricane warning remains in effect for the northern Gulf coast from Pascagoula, Mississippi eastward to Indian Pass, Florida and according to the National Hurricane Center, Ida is expected to make landfall along the northern Gulf coast overnight. Under the current track, that looks likely to be somewhere near Alabama before it takes a turn to the northeast toward Georgia and Florida. The timing of Ida Ã¢â‚¬“ some 22 or so days before the official end of the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season is pause for thought. NOAA data show that the Atlantic basin has a very peaked season from August through October, with 78 percent of tropical storm days, 87 percent of minor hurricane days (Category 1 and 2) and 96 percent of major hurricane days (Category 3, 4, and 5) occurring then. Maximum activity is in early to mid-September. November hurricanes may be rare, but U.S. landfalling ones are rarer. Hurricane Kate in 1985 was the last November hurricane to make U.S. landfall. Kate weakened to a Category 1 storm before hitting the Florida Panhandle where it was responsible for five deaths. Whether it remains at hurricane strength or not, Ida is a timely reminder that the season doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t officially end until November 30. Check out I.I.I. hurricane facts and stats.
Just a year since Hurricane Ike Ã¢â‚¬“ the third most costly hurricane in U.S. history Ã¢â‚¬“ hit coastal communities in Texas with a powerful storm surge, a new study by the Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) says government minimum flood elevation requirements for Gulf Coast properties vulnerable to storm surge are woefully inadequate. Its report on property damage caused by Hurricane Ike finds that many properties are not built high enough to withstand storm surges. The IBHS study questions the current basis for elevating properties along the Gulf Coast and urges the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to provide greater incentives for building well above the minimum elevations now in place. As well as providing flood insurance, the NFIP establishes base flood elevation (BFE) levels for properties. All but a handful of properties located closest to the coast on the Bolivar Peninsula, Texas and even built to the highest elevation requirements, were washed away during Hurricane Ike. By contrast, the study found that 10 homes on the Bolivar Peninsula designed and built under the IBHS FortifiedÃ¢â‚¬ ¦for safer living program, survived the storm with minor damage. The Fortified homes had outdoor decks at 18 feet that were destroyed, but the homes themselves which were elevated to 26 feet, survived. According to IBHS, most homes in coastal areas are built to or slightly above 100-year BFEs. Ã¢â‚¬Å“A 100-year flood means that the level of flood water has a 1 percent chance of being equaled or exceeded in any single year. However, it is well recognized in the engineering community that coastal homes built to this level have a 26 percent chance of being flooded or demolished over the life of a 30-year mortgage,Ã¢â‚¬ says IBHS Chief Engineer Dr. Tim Reinhold. Check out I.I.I. information on flood insurance.
A disorganized Tropical Storm Erika Ã¢â‚¬“ the fifth named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season Ã¢â‚¬“ is a little weaker with maximum sustained winds of near 45 miles per hour as it approaches the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean, according to the latest report from the National Hurricane Center (NHC). Early today the center of Erika was located about 160 miles east-southeast of the Leeward Islands. Since its formation Tuesday, the storm has been moving generally westward near 7 miles per hour, but it is expected to turn west-northwest at a slightly faster forward speed over the next day or so. Because the 2009 AtlanticÃ‚ season has featured just one hurricane so far, the temptation is to say danger over. But letÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not speak too soon. Hurricane season activity generally peaks in early to mid-September. Our fellow bloggers over at the Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) Disaster Safety Blog remind us that the trends since 2000, with the exception of 2005, have shown an average of eight additional named storms after August 30. So on this basis, we have at leastÃ‚ four named storms to go and the season is far from over. Check out I.I.I. facts and stats on hurricanes.
Hurricane Bill has strengthened to a Category 4 storm out over the Atlantic. National Hurricane Center (NHC) forecasters say the storm is expected to strengthen some more during the next 24 hours and that interests in the Leeward Islands and Bermuda should monitor the progress of Bill. Current tracks put Bill passing between Bermuda and the U.S. mainland this weekend and then moving up towards Canada. Early this morning, the center of Bill was located about 460 miles east of the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean. To put it in context, a Category 4 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale denotes a storm with sustained winds of 131-155 miles per hour. If a storm of this strength makes landfall extremely dangerous winds causing devastating damage are expected. A storm of this strength would cause extensive damage to properties and windborne debris could injure or kill. Most trees will be snapped or uprooted and fallen trees could cut off residential areas for days to weeks. Power will be unavailable for weeks. Hurricane Charley, which made landfall in southwest Florida in 2004, and Hurricane Hugo, which made landfall in South Carolina in 1989, are both examples of Category Four hurricanes at landfall. Charley and Hugo rank as the fifth and seventh most costly hurricanes in U.S. history, respectively. So there is much reason for insurers to hope that Hurricane Bill will stay far out at sea. Check out I.I.I. hurricane facts and stats.
After a slow start to the Atlantic hurricane season, three named storms, including the first hurricane of the 2009 season are now in play. Hurricane Bill with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph was located about 1160 miles east of the Lesser Antilles early this morning. National Hurricane Center forecasters say Bill is moving quickly toward the west-northwest at 22 mph and that strengthening is forecast in the next day or so. Bill could become a major hurricane by Wednesday. Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Claudette (now a tropical depression) became the first storm to make U.S. landfall on the Florida Panhandle early this morning, though it was not expected to cause significant flooding or wind damage. Tropical Depression Ana was also moving through the northeastern Caribbean though forecasters said it was likely to dissipate later today. Check out I.I.I. hurricane facts and stats. Check out I.I.I. information on flood insurance.
As Hawaii prepares for the approach of Hurricane Felicia, the sixth named storm of the Eastern Pacific hurricane season (Note: Eastern Pacific hurricanes rarely hit the U.S.), forecasters this week downgraded their forecasts for Atlantic hurricane season activity. Not that this is a guarantee of quiet times ahead. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) warned the public not to let its guard down, even as it changed its AtlanticÃ‚ hurricane outlook to an increased probability of a below-normal season and an expectation of fewer named storms and hurricanes. NOAA forecasters say there is now a 70 percent chance of seven to 11 named storms, of which three to six could become hurricanes, including one to two major hurricanes (Category 3 or higher). Meanwhile, Colorado State UniversityÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Tropical Meteorology Project team has also downgraded its forecast and said the probability of a major hurricane making landfall along the U.S. coastline this year is 46 percent, compared with the last-century average of 52 percent. The team now predicts there will be 10 named storms, of which four will become hurricanes, including two major hurricanes. Check out I.I.I. hurricane facts and stats.
The East Coast of the United States, and especially the Middle Atlantic states, remains overdue for a major (Category 3 or stronger) hurricane strike, according to the author of a book on the topic. This year marks the 40th anniversary of Hurricane Camille, the deadliest storm in VirginiaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s history, and despite the absence of major storms in recent years, the Middle Atlantic region can only beat the odds for so long says Rick Schwartz, author of the book Hurricanes and the Middle Atlantic States. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Hurricane history suggests that the Mid-AtlanticÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s seeming immunity will change as soon as 2009. Hurricane Alley shifts. A modest drift to the east of the Gulf Coast activity would likely send hurricanes storming up the Eastern seaboard.Ã¢â‚¬ Hurricane Isabel was the last Category 2 hurricane to make landfall along the U.S. East Coast north of Florida, while the last Category 3 was Hurricane Fran in 1996. Hurricane Hugo in 1989 (the seventh most costly hurricane in U.S. history)Ã‚ was the last Category 4 storm. In comparison, 10 Category 2 or stronger storms made landfall along the Gulf Coast between 2004 and 2008. Check out I.I.I. hurricane facts and stats.