Hurricane Jimena, a powerful Category 4 hurricane, is being called "extremely dangerous" as it nears landfall on the southern tip of Baja California late today or early Wednesday morning, according to the National Hurricane Center. The massive hurricane Jimena has sustained wind speeds of 155 mph -- 7% stronger than just a day ago, putting it on the cusp of Category 5 status.
The hurricane is prompting frantic preparations on Baja California, and on the Mexican mainland as well. While the storm is expected to have its strength sapped while crossing the peninsula, it is forecast to retain tropical storm-strength as it makes a second landfall on mainland Mexico, late Friday or early Saturday.
Hurricane Jimena is not the only storm being watched in North American waters.
Hours after Hurricane Jimena formed as a tropical storm, Tropical Storm Kevin formed behind it, the 11th named storm of the season in the eastern Pacific. Tropical Storm Kevin, however, has since dissipated without menacing land.
In the Atlantic, the makings of Tropical Storm Erika are brewing, as an area of low pressure shows a better-than-50% chance of becoming a tropical depression or tropical storm in the next 48 hours, according to the National Hurricane Center. The center is warning the Leeward Islands, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico to be on alert.
In the Atlantic, there have been five named tropical storms, most recently Tropical Storm Danny; there has been one hurricane: Bill. In the Pacific, there have been 11 named storms, including five hurricanes: Andres, Carlos, Felicia, Guillermo and Jimena.
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 also 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. The recent formation of a new El Nino pattern in the eastern Pacific should reduce the number and intensity of Atlantic hurricanes this year.
Here's how the two most prominent forecasters revised their forecasts in early August:
The federal government in May had predicted a "near normal" hurricane season for the Atlantic, with a 25% chance of above-normal outbreaks and 25% chance of below-normal outbreaks. Now, it predicts a 50% probability of a near-normal season, a 40% probability of a below-normal season, and just a 10% probability of an above-normal season.
The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration predicts a 70% chance of:
The other major forecaster in the U.S., Colorado State University, revised down its expectations for the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season once already, and did it again in August:
Further, the Colorado forecasters predicted that the probability of a hurricane striking the U.S. coastline is 46% (down from 54%).
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:
Names refer to the highest strength the storm reached, while dates refer to the dates during which the storm retained at least tropical storm strength.
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