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US In The Calm Between The Storms

The six-month Atlantic hurricane season was the costliest ever for the United States, with damage estimated at 80 billion dollars.
by Patrick Moser
Miami (AFP) Dec 13, 2005
It was the year that shattered hurricane records and made New Orleans' worst nightmare come true, and experts say this could just be the beginning.

As the year draws to an end, the southern United States is still struggling to recover from the devastation wrought by Katrina and its sister and brother hurricanes.

No one knows just how deadly the season was, as many of Hurricane Katrina's victims in New Orleans are feared to have been carried away by floodwaters, buried under rubble or even eaten by crocodiles.

But the death toll along the southern United States and Central America runs into the thousands, and much of New Orleans still looks like a bombed-out city.

The six-month Atlantic hurricane season was the costliest ever for the United States, with damage estimated at 80 billion dollars.

The political cost was also high as authorities came under intense fire for their slow response to the disaster that left thousands stranded in flooded New Orleans for days after Katrina broke the city's levees on August 29.

In all, 2005 saw a record 14 hurricanes, among an unprecedented 26 tropical storms that formed in the Atlantic.

It was the first time since record-keeping started in 1851 that three hurricanes reached category five, the top of the Saffir-Simpson intensity scale. Katerina, Rita and Wilma all had maximum sustained windspeeds of 280 kilometers (175 miles) per hour.

Hurricane Wilma, which slammed into Florida in October, was the most intense hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic, with its central pressure falling to 882 millibars.

As hundreds of thousands struggled to pick up their lives shattered by the wrath of the storms, authorities have warned that now is the time to prepare for a new battle when the 2006 hurricane season starts in five months.

"Everybody needs a plan," said Max Mayfield, who heads the Miami-based National Hurricane Center.

Homeowners need to act soon if they want to reinforce their house to make it more hurricane-safe, as many roofers and other construction workers are still busy repairing this season's damage.

Experts insist there are plenty of good reasons for residents in hurricane-prone regions to strengthen their homes.

"Because we are in an active era, it's important to recognize that with a greater number of hurricanes come increasing odds of one striking land," said US National Weather Service Director David Johnson.

Experts believe the latest record hurricane season was part of a cycle where periods of relative calm alternate with decades of intense activity.

"I'd like to foretell that next year will be calmer, but I can't," said Conrad Lautenbacher, who heads the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Leading expert William Gray believes it will be a while before the cycle ends. "Enhanced major hurricane activity is likely to continue in the Atlantic basin for the next 15 to 20 years," he says.

But 2006 should not be quite as bad as this year was, according to the Colorado State University forecaster.

A study he published this month indicates tropical cyclone activity in the Atlantic basin would be about 195 percent of average, as compared with 263 percent this year.

And Gray has some good news for residents of the southern United States, saying it is statistically unlikely that four major hurricanes will again make landfall in the United States next year, as was the case in 2004 and again in 2005.

Kerry Emanuel, a professor of atmospheric science at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology, was also moderately upbeat. "Whenever you break a record, it's a safe bet you won't break it again for some time>'

But then again, he and other experts point out that the current active hurricane cyclone comes at a time when US coastal areas are increasingly populated -- a potentially deadly combination.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Active Atlantic Hurricane Season In 2006, But Fewer Landfalls
Miami (AFP) Dec 06, 2005
The current record Atlantic cyclone year will be followed by yet another highly active season, though Americans can expect fewer major hurricanes to make landfall in 2006, top experts said Tuesday.

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