With the Atlantic Ocean's first tropical depression moving far off the U.S. East Coast, the June 1 official start of the hurricane season is nearly upon us. The tropical depression, which formed May 28, isn't likely to form into a tropical storm, so it won't be given a name.
Last year, the Atlantic saw 16 named tropical storms -- from Arthur on May 30, which killed five and caused $78 million in damages to Belize, to Hurricane Paloma, which formed Nov. 5 and struck Cuba as a Category 4 monster that was the second-most intense hurricane ever recorded in November. All in all, there were eight Atlantic hurricanes and storms caused an estimated $41 billion in damages and left hundreds dead -- more than 800 in Haiti alone.
The eastern Pacific saw 16 named storms, seven of them hurricanes, starting with Tropical Storm Alma on May 29 and ending Nov. 5 when Tropical Storm Polo petered out.
The 2008 hurricane season produced several record-breaking storms, including Tropical Storm Alma; the easternmost named storm ever to form in the Pacific and Hurricane Bertha, the longest-lived Atlantic tropical storm on record. Four storms were notable -- or deadly -- enough that the names were retired -- Alma, Gustav, Ike and Paloma. Hurricane Gustav caused $4 billion damage in Louisiana and killed 112 people, including 77 in Haiti. Hurricane Ike was the season's strongest hurricane, and the third-costliest storm (more than $19 billion) to hit the U.S., devastating Galveston, Texas, and causing about 100 deaths in the Caribbean and along the U.S. Gulf Coast.
What's in store for 2009?
Whether and how global warming will influence hurricane frequency or intensity is still a matter of genuine scientific debate. In recent years, scientists have at least identified several factors -- from the extent of rainfall in Africa to the presence or absence of El Nino conditions in the Pacific -- that help them predict the intensity of a hurricane season ahead of time. Here's what the two most prominent forecasters have to say:
The federal government has predicted a "near normal" hurricane season for the Atlantic, with a 25% chance of above-normal outbreaks and 25% chance of below-normal outbreaks -- though overall, forecasters expressed a greater degree of uncertainty this year than they have in past years. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's predicts a 70% chance of:
The other major forecaster in the U.S., Colorado State University, recently revised down its expectations for the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season:
Further, the Colorado forecasters predicted the following probabilities that a major hurricane could strike the U.S., all of which are about average for the past century:
Forecasters warn that the number of storms, and their intensity is only one key determinant of risk of property damage and loss of life: The biggest factor is who lives in harm's way, and how well they prepare. Some 35 million U.S. residents live in hurricane-prone regions, and experts urge them to prepare.
When those storms do come, they will be given names. Tropical cyclones are given names when they achieve tropical storm strength, with sustained winds of at least 39 mph. Hurricanes are tropical storms that have sustained winds that exceed 74 mph, and major hurricanes have sustained winds that exceed 111 mph.Here are the tropical storm and hurricane names for 2009:
Note: this story originally misstated the name of Colorado State University. The error was corrected June 2.
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