The third-most active Atlantic hurricane season officially ends today after causing at least $1.6 billion in damage and killing hundreds while leaving the U.S. virtually unscathed.
The season produced 19 named storms, with winds of at least 39 miles (63 kilometers) per hour, tying for third place with 1995 and 1887, and none made landfall on the U.S. as a hurricane, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Only 1933, which produced 21 systems, and 2005 with a record 28, had more.
“It was an incredibly active year but we missed it in the U.S.,” said Jeff Masters, co-founder of commercial forecaster Weather Underground Inc. in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “We lucked out with the oil spill and Haiti didn’t get totally smacked by a bad hurricane.”
Canada, Mexico, Central America and parts of the Caribbean suffered major impacts. Newfoundland recorded about $100 million in damage and one death from Hurricane Igor in September, and Hurricane Tomas in October and November killed 41 and caused more than $500 million in damage in Costa Rica and St. Lucia.
Igor breached the highway system in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador in 100 places and damaged 200 communities, said Kevin O’Brien, provincial minister of municipal affairs.
“It was one of the most significant events that we have had in over 100 years,” O’Brien said. “It was a big storm.”
Mexico, Belize, Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala received multiple storm hits, with Mexico and Guatemala pummeled by systems from both the Atlantic and the Pacific.
Tropical Storm Agatha, off the Pacific, combined with the eruption of the Pacaya volcano to kill at least 235 people in Guatemala. The Inter-American Development Bank approved $250 million in financing to help the county recover.
In September, Hurricane Karl, an Atlantic storm, killed 23 and caused an estimated $100 million in insured damages to Mexico, according to the Insurance Information Institute Website.
The U.S. did receive some damage from this year’s storms. Hurricane Alex and Tropical Storm Hermine struck just south of the U.S.-Mexico border and brought severe flooding to Texas. At least 13 people died in flooding, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Hurricane Earl grazed North Carolina’s Outer Banks and Nantucket island in Massachusetts. Tropical Storm Bonnie crossed southern Florida in July.
Rains triggered by storms off the Atlantic killed at least 70 in Nicaragua and forced 10,000 into shelters, according to the health ministry.
Evangelina Sanchez, 49, and her four children are among the 700 people still in a shelter in Managua, Nicaragua, three months after her home on the shore of Lake Xolotan was flooded.
“The lake came into my house and destroyed it,” she said. “Now we have nothing. The government says it will build me a house, but who knows.”
The U.S. was spared for the most part because weather patterns established early in the season deflected storms, keeping many out to sea, said Thomas Downs, a meteorologist with Weather 2000 Inc. in New York.
Since 1995, 30 percent of all Atlantic hurricanes have hit the U.S., Masters said. This season, there were 12 hurricanes, a tie with 1969 for second-most, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Given the recent trend, the U.S. should have been hit by at least four, Masters said. This year’s storms avoided a direct path over the BP Plc oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and spared Haiti a brutal hit on areas still reeling from an earthquake in January.
Before the season began June 1, Colorado State University and the U.S. Climate Prediction Center both called for an active period.
Colorado State called for 18 storms overall, with 10 becoming hurricanes. The climate center originally called for 14 to 23 named storms and later reduced that number to 14 to 20.
“We’ll probably never do better; I give all the credit to Phil Klotzbach, my colleague,” said William Gray, co-author of the Colorado State forecast and the man who started seasonal hurricane forecasts in the 1980s. “We forecast 18 named storms and we have 19, we forecast for 90 named storm days and we got 88.25 days, we forecast 10 hurricanes and we have gotten 12, we undershot there.”
This year’s season was so active because of record sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic and a La Nina, or cooling, in the Pacific. Cooler water in the Pacific lessens wind shear in the Atlantic that can retard storm development there.
Masters said there is a 25 percent chance La Nina may linger through next year and a 50 percent chance the Pacific’s warmth will be neutral. Both of which can mean a more active hurricane season in the Atlantic.
“So you have a 75 percent chance of a pretty darn active season again next year,” Masters said.
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