Record Atlantic Hurricane Season Ends, Time to Plan for 2009

MIAMI, Florida, November 28, 2008 (ENS) - The 2008 Atlantic hurricane season officially closes on Sunday, with a warning from Florida Governor Charlie Crist and state emergency officials to begin planning year-round for emergencies and natural disasters, especially hurricanes.

"We welcome the close of this busy season that has touched the lives of so many Floridians, as well as our neighbors to the south, north and west," said Governor Crist. "We are fortunate that our beautiful state did not receive a major hurricane impact, but storms such as Fay remind us to never underestimate the power of tropical systems."

Tropical Storm Fay is the only storm on record to make landfall four times in the state of Florida, and to prompt tropical storm and hurricane watches and warnings for the state's entire coastline at various times during its August lifespan.

"The 2008 season was the most active and deadly since 2005. The Caribbean nations just to our south and the United States saw nearly 900 fatalities from these storms," said Florida State Meteorologist Ben Nelson. "Although much of our state was flooded by Fay, Floridians were fortunate that steering currents narrowly diverted hurricane activity away from the Sunshine State."

The 2008 season produced a record number of consecutive storms to strike the United States and ranks as one of the more active seasons in the 64 years since comprehensive records began.

A total of 16 named storms formed this season, based on an operational estimate by NOAA's National Hurricane Center in Miami.

The storms included eight hurricanes, five of which were major hurricanes at Category 3 strength or higher.

These numbers fall within the ranges predicted in NOAA's pre- and mid-season outlooks issued in May and August. The August outlook called for 14 to 18 named storms, seven to 10 hurricanes and three to six major hurricanes. An average season has 11 named storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes.

"This year's hurricane season continues the current active hurricane era and is the tenth season to produce above-normal activity in the past 14 years," said Gerry Bell, PhD, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center.

Overall, the season is tied as the fourth most active in terms of named storms (16) and major hurricanes (five), and is tied as the fifth most active in terms of hurricanes (eight) since 1944, which was the first year aircraft missions flew into tropical storms and hurricanes.

For the first time on record, six consecutive tropical cyclones (Dolly, Edouard, Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike) made landfall on the U.S. mainland and a record three major hurricanes (Gustav, Ike and Paloma) struck Cuba. This is also the first Atlantic season to have a major hurricane (Category 3) form in five consecutive months (July: Bertha, August: Gustav, September: Ike, October: Omar, November: Paloma).

Bell attributes this year's above-normal season to conditions that include a combination of ocean and atmospheric conditions has spawned increased hurricane activity since 1995.

He also blames warmer tropical Atlantic Ocean temperatures - about 1.0 degree Fahrenheit above normal during the peak of the season - and the lingering effects of a La Niña cool surface water temperatures in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean.

"The information we'll gain by assessing the events from the 2008 hurricane season will help us do an even better job in the future," said Bill Read, director of NOAA's National Hurricane Center. "With this season behind us, it's time to prepare for the one that lies ahead."

"Floridians should remember that hazardous weather happens 365 days a year," said Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Craig Fugate. "Preparedness does not end with the hurricane season. Now is an excellent time to review, update your plans, take inventory of disaster supplies, and recycle goods and batteries."

NOAA will issue its initial 2009 Atlantic Hurricane Outlook in May, prior to the official start of the season on June 1.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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