The worst hurricane season on record formally ended last Wednesday, but apparently word didn’t reach the mid-Atlantic, where on Friday the tropical storm Epsilon reached 75 mph, thus officially becoming the year’s 14th hurricane.
Storms this season exhausted the roster of 21 alphabetical names chosen annually for them by the World Meteorological Association, and now the names are five letters deep into the Greek alphabet. By coincidence, 21 was the upper limit of the number of storms NOAA forecast for the year, and 21 storms was the 72-year-old record for the previous worst year ever.
For what little comfort it is to those in the path of those storms, 2005 set all kinds of records: the first with three Category 5 (155 mph or more) hurricanes _ Katrina, Rita and Wilma; and another first, all three hit the United States; the first with seven major hurricanes, “major” being defined as Category 3 (111 to 130 mph) or better.
In all, five hurricanes and three tropical storms hit the United States, leaving behind record devastation. The hurricanes, or the threat of one, caused repeated mass evacuations and left large parts of a major American city uninhabitable. Coastal areas naturally suffered the worst, but the damage reached far inland.
And here’s the worst part: It’s not over, not anywhere near over. And, says NOAA, more and bigger storms are unrelated to causes like greenhouse gases that, theoretically if improbably, might be susceptible to solution.
Instead, it is part of a natural cycle of which we’re in the 11th year, a cycle that could last another 10 to 20 years before a lull. The last active cycle lasted 44 years, the lull 25. If there’s any solace in this, better forecasting and a better-prepared public held the death toll far below those of the killer hurricanes of yore.
In case forecasters are caught short again with an inadequate supply of names, we offer a small suggestion: Sell the naming rights and use the proceeds for hurricane relief.
Hurricane season formally resumes June 1.
(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com)