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A Dirty Dozen Tropical Storms for Hurricane Season – Experts Lower Estimates

When June arrives, a new hurricane season tags along. Last December, shortly after the late ending of the 2008 season, American forecasters estimated that the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season would be somewhat more active than the average 1950-2000 season. They announced estimates that 2009 would have about seven hurricanes (average is 5.9) including three weighing in at Category 3, 4 or 5 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane intensity and14 named storms (average is 9.6).

On April 7, however, the Colorado State University (CSU) hurricane research team, led by Philip Klotzbach and William Gray, lowered this forecast, predicting that six of 12 tropical storms would become hurricanes. The team based their reduction on the potential for a weak El Nino event in the eastern Pacific and an observed cooling of tropical Atlantic sea surface temperatures over the past few months. Cooler waters are associated with dynamic and thermodynamic factors that are less conducive for an active season.

Looking back:  Hurricane season 2008, unlike 2006 and 2007, was one of the most active seasons on record, a shift back to the years of numerous deadly Caribbean and US storms. Last year, 16 named storms formed, resulting in 883 direct deaths and 99 indirect deaths. Eight of the 16 became hurricanes, and five grew to Category 3 or higher, the most destructive type. These numbers are very close to the 1995 to 2008 average of 15 named storms, eight hurricanes and four of Category 3 or higher.

The 2008 hurricane season was an all time record breaker in several respects; five of the six months of the season had a major hurricane, Paloma shattered the Atlantic Basin record when it became a major hurricane in November, and Hurricane Bertha became the longest-lived named storm on record in July (17 days). Bertha also formed farther east than any other on record so early in the season.

The Caribbean was hit last year with an October surprise when Tropical Depression 15 crept onto the radar screen near Bonaire and barreled north rapidly, becoming a Category 3 storm when it made landfall the night of October 15. Almost 50 St. Croix boats were damaged, sunk or submerged by Hurricane Omar which also caused power outages and flooding on Anguilla, St. Maarten and Antigua.

Ike was among the most destructive storms last year. It developed as a tropical storm, west of the Cape Verde Islands, on September 1. After affecting Haiti and pounding the western end of Cuba, Ike emerged into the southeastern Gulf of Mexico and struck Galveston peninsula on September 13 as a Category 2 hurricane that caused up to $18 billion damage in Texas. Boats were flung onto a main highway. The combination of surge and additional water rise flooded and destroyed homes and centuries-old oak trees around Galveston Bay.

During my visit there in October, the devastation was obvious and amazing. Galveston is still struggling to recover, but many islanders are determined to rebuild their homes and their lives, just as the residents of Louisiana and Mississippi did after Katrina struck.

Work is still in progress almost four years after Katrina. Dead trees along the Mississippi coast, once bearing majestic branches, are now transformed into beautiful pieces of natural art, silent remembrances of the disaster. Local artists have created sculptures that have become a top tourist attraction on the Coast and a symbol of the comeback of South Mississippi. "Birds" by chainsaw artist Marlin Miller can be seen on US 90, one of the three dozen tree sculptures along the beach road spanning 30 miles from Waveland to Biloxi.

As most Caribbean residents know from experience, new season preparation is crucial. Excellent and extensive information prepared in Florida about a family plan, a business plan, and how to strengthen your home can be found at www.floridadisaster.org. And stay tuned for the experts’ updates:  NOAA (U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) planned to issue a preseason forecast on May 21 and the Klotzbach and Gray team’s update is due on June 2.

Els Kroon is a Dutch former teacher who now lives and works as an award-winning free-lance photojournalist on Curacao.

Names for 2009 storms that form in the North Atlantic
Ana
Bill
Claudette
Danny
Erika
Fred
Grace
Henri
Ida
Joaquin
Kate
Larry
Mindy
Nicholas
Odette
Peter
Rose
Sam
Teresa
Victor
Wanda

Names not retired from this list will be used again in 2015. The list is the same as the 2003 list except for Fred, Ida, and Joaquin, which replaced Fabian, Isabel and Juan. Storms do not acquire names until they are designated tropical storms with sustained maximum winds of at least 39 mph.

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