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Updated:3pm 09/25/07

Tropical Storm Karen Forms;

Busy Season... believe it or not

Also:

Category 5 Hurricane Coverage

Though current conditions in the tropics don't point to much more hurricane activity any time soon, this has already been a fairly active season. In some ways extraordinary. Never before have two category 5 hurricanes made landfall in the Atlantic Basin (Dean, Felix). That they didn't end up on the US mainland owes more to good luck than to much else.

In addition we had one late developing storm, Humberto, that again confounded forecasters. While not quite as rapid and large an intensifier as 2004's Charley, Humberto again raises questions about why and how storms intensify on landfall. It used to be that a tropical storm like Humberto or a weak Cat 1 like a Charley that were fairly close to landfall weren't much cause for concern. Residents could safely remain in their homes. It seems that old assumption is not so safe anymore.

Ingrid Archive
Ingrid Development Unclear

   We incorrectly said yesterday Ingrid would be the 8th storm of the season.  It in fact is the 9th.  Whether it makes it to hurricane status is unclear for now and whether whatever it becomes threatens the US mainland is even more problematic.  For now the storm will develop and move slowly in the general direction of the US Eastern Seaboard but the models are begining to forecast the begining of a curl to the north and to sea.  We'll see.

Humberto Surprises

   As expected Humberto did gather strength before landfall.  But the amount of strength was a surprise.  The storm became a hurricane before crossing along the Texas/Louisiana border. 

Gabrielle Recap

   Gabrielle made it a little farther west than the forecast track predicted.  Though the storm made it to land there wasn't much damage to speak of.  50 mph winds and rain, though not enough to make some people happy along the Outer Banks which has had a dry summer. 

   The variance from the official forecast track that had been released just 24 hours earlier points up the inexact science that is hurricane forecasting.  The National Hurricane Center is quick to say how the 5-day cone is subject to drastic change and even the 3-day cone of probability allows for a fair bit of variance.  But even less than 24 hours out from land fall, the precise picture of where the center of circulation will end up can vary by scores of miles...that is to say perhaps 50-60-70 miles as in this case.   No big deal with Gabrielle which was a weak tropical storm.   But imagine an intense, tightly packed hurricane like a Charley, which also happens (like Charley) to intensify from say Cat 1 to Cat 4 strength.   60-70 miles can make a big difference if you lived in say Fort Myers as opposed to Punta Gorda in Florida in 2004 with Charley.   If Gabrielle had been the same kind of storm you might have seen a similar scenario with residents (and vacationers) electing to stay on the Outer Banks only to have been washed and/or blown away. 

Check out our coverage and perspective on the history-making, land falling, Cat 5 storms of 2007:

Another Land Falling Cat 5 Storm

Felix Makes History in Nicaragua

Jeff Flock: "It's Getting Crazy"

Also:

Check Out HurricaneNow "Deadliest Hurricanes" List

Felix Batters Central America - Worst Not Yet Known

  Feliz intensified as it made landfall in Nicaragua making it again to Category 5 status before weakening over land.  The true extent of the damage will not be clear on the "Mosquito Coast" for days.  Though it is not exactly a highly developed area, the devastation will near complete and widespread.   

History Made

   That makes two landfalling Category 5 hurricanes in the same year which has never happened before in the recorded history of storms.  Just having two Cat 5s in a season is extraordinary.  Our Jeff Flock opines below about the growing number of monster storms. The good news again, as with Hurricane Dean, the landfall was not in a heavily populated or developed area.   But the conditions that have led to the development of these storms remain in place.  Can you imagine worse devastation than the landfalling Cat 4 Katrina returning to New Orleans, or Tampa or Miami or anywhere really on either the Gulf of Atlantic coasts? 

From HurricaneNow Chief Correspondent Jeff Flock:

Crazy Powerful Storms on Rise

    Since Katrina there now have been four more Cat 5 storms to form in the Atlantic basin: the latest this year with hurricane Dean that fortunately missed the US and now Hurricane Felix,which also steered south.  That makes 12 Cat 5s since I began covering hurricanes in the mid 1980s, begining with Gilbert in 1988.  That's 12 cat 5s in 30 years.  And now eight, or exactly two thirds of them, have been in the last four years.  Is there any doubt that we are in a period of extraordinary activity? 

     As we have said in this space many times, predicting hurricanes in advance is essentially impossible despite the many hurricane forecasts put out by academics, weather gurus and the federal government.   Just because the conditions are ripe for hurricane development doesn't mean there will be any (see last season).  Predicting the amount of damage that will be caused by hurricanes is also impossible.  Even if storms do develop there is no guarantee they will threaten land (see also last season which was not all that bereft of hurricanes---it was just that none threatened the US).  And as we now see, even if they do make landfall, they may hit largely undeveloped or underpopulated areas.  But to have 7 catastrophic Category 5 hurricanes (Isabel, Ivan, Emily, Katrina, Rita, Wilma and now Dean) in the space of less than five seasons is something that has, as far as recorded history goes, never been experienced.

For The Record: Here's Your List of Cat 5s in the Last 30 Years - Dean First Landfalling Cat 5 Since Andrew

    Check the minimum pressure readings of the last handful of storms.  The pattern is of steadily strengthening intensities.   Also extraordinary, Dean was a Cat 5 at landfall.  That makes it the first landfalling Cat 5 in the Atlantic basin since Andrew in 1992.   That 906mb pressure reading is also the third lowest pressure of a landfalling storm on record...topped only by the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 and Gilbert in 1988. 

    Also check out the HurricaneNow list of the dealiest storms since the 60's below.  This analysis gives us even more evidence of the extraordinary times we appear to be in. 

Storm Year Min. Pressure Max. Winds
Gilbert 1988 888mb 184mph
Hugo 1989 918 161
Andrew 1992 922 173
Mitch 1998 905 178
Isabel 2003 915 167
Ivan 2004 910 167
Emily 2005 929 161
Katrina 2005 902 173
Rita 2005 897 178
Wilma 2005 882 184
Dean 2007 906 167
FELIX 2007 929 167

 

HurricaneNow Katrina Live Coverage Replayed in Real Time

    On July 29, 2005, HurricaneNow live coverage of hurricane Katrina began from downtown New Orleans.  We didn't stop for more than five straight hours as the most deadly storm in the last half decade lashed New Orleans and points east.  On the second anniversary of the disaster we will began playing tape of our live coverage once again starting at 6:15am EDT.  Youl watch in real time as the storm unfolds before our cameras, hunkered down in a parking garage just off Canal Street. 

Live Chat

    Just as our subscribers did on the morning of August 29, 2005, we hosted a chat with correspondent Jeff Flock during the broadcast.  The five hours of uninterrupted live coverage from the scene of a landfalling hurricane was a piece of journalistic and broadcast history.  It features correspondent Jeff Flock, Producer Rob Hess in New Orleans and Live Coordinator Tom Casale back in our master control. 

Click on the window now to check it out. 

Hurricane Katrina Live Webcast Replay
Wednesday 8/29/07. 6:15am - 11:30am ET / 5:15 - 10:30am CT

"Extraordinary Coverage---Extraordinary Run of Cat 5 Storms"

     "As someone who has spent the last 25 years covering every major hurricane to hit the US, Katrina was really a once in a lifetime experience.  A true urban hurricane.  The most vulnerable spot in the United States threatened by a Category 5 storm.  Thousands of people unwilling or unable to evacuate.  The morning of August 29 was a day we knew would be extraordinary, but we had no idea exactly how extraordinary or that the nightmare would endure for days, weeks, months, now years. 

     By Sunday night we knew the eye of the storm would likely move east of us on the Louisiana coast.  But with New Orleans still in the vicinity of the bulls eye we elected to remain in the downtown.  We chose a municipal parking garage off Canal Street, between the French Quarter and the Superdome.   Experience told us that, built to withstand the weight of hundreds of cars, it would hold up against even a Cat 5 storm and would keep us and our gear and vehicles out of the soup. 

    What followed for us you can watch now precisely 2 years forward.  Some of the coverage featured only the sounds of the wind and rain as we hunkered down or moved position for safety or a better look.  But the cameras, being broadcast live to our subscribers, continued to make pictures and we continued to roll tape.  Now, here in it's rough state, you can watch our hurricane Katrina coverage again or like some of us, watch it for the very first time."

Jeff Flock

Historic HurricaneNow Katrina Live Coveage

As it Happened... CLICK HERE
Wednesday 8/29/07. 6:15am - 10:30am ET

Another Possible System Looms...

     There is a large area of disturbed weather northeast of the Leeward Islands associated with a tropical wave.  Conditions look good for that to develop and early model runs suggest a generally westward track.  It's way too early to get a feel for this but it is developing in an area of the Atlantic that would suggest a possible east coast landfall, either Florida or farther north. 

First HurricaneNow List puts Katrina, More Recent Storms, in Perspective

     While we specialize in reporting live pictures and sound from hurricanes the "now" part of our mission also makes us focus more on the "now" of where we are in the cyclical trends of weather and tropical activity.  The experts seem to agree we are in an active period, last year notwithstanding.  We're compiling and releasing a new set of hurricane records which focus on more recent history as a means of putting some of the storms many of us have experienced in a new perspective.  The hybrid lists differ from the National Hurricane Center's "all-time" records. 

First List: "Deadliest Hurricanes Since the 60's"

   Our first focus is on the most serious of impact of storms: loss of life.  The listing is of the most deadly storms since the 60's.  Over the course of this hurricane season we'll roll out rundowns of the most costly storms of recent memory, the the most intense, most damaging and several "Top Ten in the Last Ten" listings of record hurricane activity over the past decade.  The lists will include exclusive HurricaneNow analysis.  

HURRICANENOW DEADLIEST HURRICANES SINCE THE 1960s (US Mainland Deaths)

RANK

STORM

YEAR

CAT

DEATHS

     1.

Katrina

2005

3

1836

     2.

Camille

1969

5

256

     3.

Agnes

1972

1

122

     4.

Betsy

1965

3

75

     5.

     6.

Floyd

Donna

1999

1960

2

5

56

50

     7.

Carla

1961

4

46

     8.

Allison

2001

TS

41

     9.

Hilda

1964

3

38

   10.

Hugo

1989

4

35

   11.

Fran

1996

3

31

   12.

Alberto

1994

TS

30

   13.

Ivan

2004

3

25

HurricaneNOW Analysis:

Only one storm since the 60s has made the all-time list of deadliest hurricanes.  But Katrina occupies a fairly prominent position at number 3 after the Galveston(1900) and Lake Okechobee(1928) hurricanes.  It’s interesting to note that two of the storms that killed the most people since the 60s have not even made it to hurricane status: tropical storms Allison in 2001 and Alberto in 1994. Camille, which is the most intense hurricane ever to strike the US, took a course similar to Katrina’s but in 1969 there were far fewer residents in its path.  Agnes was a rare June hurricane in 1972 and, despite relative low Category one intensity, came through the Gulf and across Florida and then up the entire eastern seaboard.  It was the most damaging hurricane on record until Hugo in 1989 which wreaked more structural havoc but killed “only” 35.  The list also features hurricane Carla, the Cat 4 monster that long-time CBS anchor Dan Rather made a name for himself covering.   Perhaps the most telling feature of this list: Of the 12 storms, 9 came through the Gulf of Mexico rather than across the Atlantic.

Previous Posts:

Jamaica Getting Hit Hard Sunday Night

     While the eye of Hurricane Dean is passing Jamaica's southern coast about 60 miles offshore, government officials ordered evacuations of coastal areas as residents scrambled to make last minute preparations. Store shelves were virtually cleaned out, and the power grid was shut down Sunday afternoon. Many tourists left the island Saturday, though some decided to ride out the storm in Montego Bay area hotels.

     The US National Hurricane Center reported 145 MPH maximum sustained winds offshore, with winds over 100 MPH reported unofficially onshore. The Cayman Islands should expect more of the same Monday.  

What's Next?

     Forecasters expect more intensification as Dean travels at about 20 MPH south of Cuba, headed for Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. Forecast models have been showing a slight drift to the south over the last couple of days, but it appears that the Yucatan could be looking at a Category 5 landfall late Monday night and early Tuesday morning. Officials in Belize have issued a hurricane watch for Belize City north to the Belize/Mexico border. Warm waters in the western Caribbean will fuel Dean to make it a powerful Category 5 hurricane before it slams into the Yucatan Peninsula. Residents and vacationers who typically make this weekend a busy time in the Yucatan are already evacuating.

     While many of the forecast models indicate Dean will make landfall near the Belize/Yucatan border, the National Hurricane Center's forecast is slightly north of them, but NHC forecasters say "some additional southward adjustments to the track are possible." When the hurricane passes over land Tuesday,  it will likely be weakened enough to have less of an impact when it makes a second landfall over Mexico south of Texas by Wednesday afternoon.

      Stay tuned to HurricaneNow for the latest updates on Hurricane Dean. 

Dean Path: Lesser Antilles, Jamaica, Yucatan

     The model guidance on TS Dean has is in pretty good agreement on track.  The forecast is for the hurricane to gain in intensity and move rapidly west, crossing the Lesser Antilles and likely the islands of Martinique and Dominica as a Cat 1 and then strike a glancing blow to Jamaica as a Cat 3 and then make it to Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula as a Cat 4.  After that is when it gets interesting.  The National Hurricane Center forecasts a 130plus mph storm by the time it makes Mexico.  That's a major hurricane.

     The question is: does that major hurricane continue west and dissipate over Mexico or curl out into the Gulf and threaten Texas and points east?  There are a few models that keep the hurricane on a more southerly track that bring it across Mexico or even northern Central America.  The GFDL model veers it into the Gulf before ever getting to the Yucatan. 

      Bottom line:  There appears to be little to stand in the way of this hurricane continuing to strengthen.  It's likely track is over a lot of warm water with little land in the way to check its growth.  Wherever it goes it will likely have major impact.  Best guess right now is that the area of Texas that is having such an easy time of it with Erin should treat it as an extremely light dress rehearsal for what could come.  

Barry Update:

    As expected, the second tropical storm of the season didn't make much noise...coming ashore Saturday morning around Tampa Bay and crossing Florida, bringing much needed rain to that dry state.  What's left should move through the Carolina coasts and Virginia.  Rain mostly.   

Earliest Atlantic Basin Storm on Record:

   In case you were wondering: a sub-tropical storm formed on January 17 in 1978 (which was the last year that only female names were used to designate hurricanes, btw).   Purists will note, however, that Hurricane Alice of 1954 and tropical storm Zeta in 2005 both formed in December and lasted into January. 

University of Colorado Forecast

    As for the Bill Gray team's latest forecast:  The June 1st update is pretty much unchanged from their last: 17 named storms, 9 hurricanes, 5 intense hurricanes.  The average year gets 9 and a half storms, about 6 hurricanes, nearly two and a half of them intense.  And if you're thinking last year was a light year, think again.  2006 was exactly average: 10 named storms, 5 hurricanes, 2 intense hurricanes. 

Early Andrea Doesn't Bode Well

     While by no means an absolute predictor of an intense hurricane season, early (or in this case pre-) season tropical activity can be an indication that it could be another strong year.  The more granular we get on the research the more we become convinced that with the exception of short-term forecasting, predicting the weather is about as easy as predicting next year's World Series or Superbowl winner.  You can get it right and look like a hero.  But whatever criteria you used to make the prediction may not work the following year. 

     So the early named storm Andrea may indicate an active 2007.  Then again there have been some years where activity came early and there was nothing much after.  Cases in point:

Earliest Tropical Storms 2003 and 1992

    The earliest tropical storms on record is "Ana" in 2003.  There was a lot of activity that year, with storm names making it all the way to "Peter."  The year also featured the cat 5 monster "Isabel", which I covered as it hit the US coast along the Carolinas.  It was only a Cat 2 at landfall however and did reasonably minimal damage.  The rest of the storms had little impact on the US coasts. So while there was lots of activity, it wasn't much of a year. 

    The only other April storm on record was in 1992.  That one, largely subtropical, formed on the 21st.  1992 turned out to be a fairly light year with just one landfalling US hurricane.  Unfortunately it was named "Andrew" which before 2005 was the most costly storm in US history and did incredible damage from across Florida and Louisiana.  The only prediction I can derive from the May arrival of "Andrea" is that 2007 will be an interesting year.    

HurricaneNow Plans For 2007    

    After a long winter's nap that has turned out to last not just the off-season but the last hurricane season as well, we're springing back to life at HurricaneNow for what will certainly be a bigger season than last and what some think could be a season more like 2005 than 2006.  Over the longer than normal down time, owing to last year's negligible hurricane activity, we have been preparing to deliver the latest in up-to-the-minute live coverage of land-falling storms and hurricane information. 

Advertising

     Perhaps you've noticed the new banner ad and others on the pages.  For the first time we've signed a deal to deliver paid ads on HurricaneNow.  We've operated as a free site in our beta-testing period, then went to a subscription model.  As many of the most popular sites on the internet seem to be finding, the ad-supported model with the content otherwise provided free (not unlike TV and radio) seems to be the best way to go.  It suits us certainly because that way our content gets out to more people.  Yes, some of the real-estate is taken up by ads but this way more of you will be able to view what we do and we feel confident you'll be able to find what you're looking for.   

New Partners

In addition to all our old friends in the hurricane community, this year we have formalized our partnership with the folks at WeatherBug.  They feature the largest network of weather stations in the world, which will help provide the most accurate, live reports on conditions in hurricane hotspots.  You can click on some of their content in the top navigation bar.

The Lists

While we love the history, we are particularly interested in the NOW of hurricanes and so we're preparing some unique lists that give you a better sense of the biggest, deadliest, most powerful storms of more recent times.  Comparing those to the historic lists give you a feel for the active period we're in and perhaps a barometer of what might be ahead.  Lists are always fun. 

Also, don't forget to click on our v-logs and podcasts on the page for hurricane info and into the media center for the archive of some of our live coverage of hurricanes past.

P revious Posts:

Mayfield Retires As National Hurricane Center Director

58 year old Max Mayfield, who was center-stage at the National Hurricane Center during the extraordinary 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons has retired from his post as director of the NHC.  Mayfield was barely heard from this past season as not a single hurricane hit the US coast.  And Mayfield fears that the relatively weak season could make coastal residents complacent, despite the disasters of the two previous years. 

After hurricane Katrina killed more than 1300 people in 2005, residents of hurricane-prone states seemed better prepared for the 2006 season.  Forecasters, including the hurricane center, predicted another above average year.  But 2006 proved to be one of the thinest seasons in recent memory with only one storm even approaching the US coast as a hurricane. 

Mayfield's Final Forecast

Mayfield, who has continually preached preparedness during his term as head of the hurricane center, said in effect, that Katrina was nothing, compared to what could someday strike the US coast.  "We're eventually going to get a strong enough storm in a densely populated area to have a major disaster," said Mayfield.

"I know people don't want to hear this, and I'm generally a very positive person, but we're setting ourselves up for this major disaster." 

Katrina was a major disaster, but Mayfield fears an even greater loss of life could come if the government continues to allow coastal areas to boom with new building and more population. 

Major metropolitan areas have shown an accute inability to get their populations evacuated in the face of major storms (Houston/Rita as well as New Orleans/Katrina in 2006).  Should a Cat 3, 4 or 5 storm ever strike either those cities or say Miami or Tampa/St. Petersburg, the loss of life could outpace Katrina. 

Mayfield hopes to pick up where he left off in the private sector, perhaps consulting in disaster management and emergency response.  He was a well-respected voice at the hurricane center, always striving and usually succeeding in the striking a balance between making people aware of potential disaster but not overstating the threat.  It's a tough role for the NHC director who in addition to running the office, spends much of his time during a storm being interviewed by TV networks and stations from cities in harms way. 

New NHC Director

Mayfield will be succeeded at the hurricane center by Bill Proenza, the National Weather Service's director for the Southern region. Proenza is 62 and is a NWS lifer, starting in the Miami office as an intern in 1963.  I have a feeling, we'll all get to know him fairly quickly during the 2007 season. 

Issac Extratropical

The National Hurricane Center is finished with advisories on what was Hurricane Isaac.   The fifth tropical storm and hurricane of the 2006 only made it to category 1 strength before heading off on the familiar curving path north and east taken by its 2006 hurricane predecessors Florence, Gordon and Helene.  The question was never whether Isaac would either amount to much or threaten the US mainland.  The question is whether any hurricanes will make the US coast this season. 

Is The Season Over?

It's definitely way too early to say that, though if the current weather patterns hold up, it's certainly possible.  Looking at history, October is actually the third most active hurricane month of the season looking at direct hits on the US mainland by major (Category 3 or better) hurricanes.  17 major hurricanes have struck in October next to 43 in September and 26 in August  (between 1851-2004).  The most likely state victim: Florida with 9 major hurricane hits in October, far more than any other state.  Texas has never had a major hurricane hit in October.

Why Florida More Vulnerable?

Research by the Naples News found that of the 95 storms that passed with 100 miles of Naples, Florida up to 2004, most came in October.  There have even been 7 storms that close as late as November.   Part of the reason is that with October storms far more likely to form in the Caribbean than off the coast of Africa, they tend to track more toward Florida.  The good news is they have less time to cook and tend to be weaker. 

Remember Hazel?

Don't make either of those points to the folks in North Carolina. as the worst hurricane in state history came in October.  Hazel hit the coast near the North and South Carolina border at Cat 2 intensity on October 15, 1954.  It had previously attained Cat 4 strength.  It made land fall during the highest lunar tide of the year producing at two story storm surge.  Better news is that a major hurricane has never struck anywhere along the US coast north of North Carolina in October. 

"Perfect Storm" Was In October
It wasn't a hurricane but one of the most famous storms (thanks to a best-selling book by Sebastian Junger and movie starring  George Clooney) came in late October.  The remnants of hurricane Grace combined with an extratropical cyclone to form a "Nor'easter" of epic proportions that was called a "perfect storm".  Also known as the "Halloween Storm", it killed all hands on the swordfish boat "Andrea Gail, did hundreds of millions of dollars damage to the US coast and at one point drifted back south and a hurricane could be detected imbedded within the system.  The National Hurricane Center declined to give it a hurricane name however, as with heavy damage having already been inflicted on the coast, the NHC thought naming a storm that was then only headed to see might be more confusing than helpful.  The damage had already been done.  And that was the end of October and the first of November. 

Is the season done?  Not necessarily. 

 

The Latest News:

Updated 1:00m ET 9/30/06

Hurricane Isaac

5th 'Cane of 2006 Season

Once Again, No US Threat

Also

Remembering "Isaac's Storm"

Two Cat 1's, two cat 3's and now another cat 1.

And it may get a little stronger, though it doesn't appear that the 5th hurricane of the 2006 season will make it to Cat 2 strength before it becomes extratropical by next Tuesday.  The storm track is becoming pretty familiar this year.  It should continue heading toward Bermuda before making the curve to sea.  Bermuda is not threatened at this time, nor is the US coast. 

It's Just An Average Year

Though the predictions said it would be a heavy year and when it comes to land falling US storms it's been a light year, the reality is that when it comes to hurricanes, 2006 has now been exactly an average year.  Looking at government statistics on the number of hurricanes per year, 5.1 is the average number based on recorded history (which spans from 1886 to 2000.  Given that we weren't as good at catching all the storms at sea in earlier history, the actual average may be higher.  There is a more recent trend a little higher as well. 

Average Number of Annual Hurricanes (1886-2000)      5.1

Average                                                         (1951-2000)     5.9

Average                                                         (1991-2000)     6.4

Here's the NOAA table on the averages for various time periods so you can see the averages for yourself.  .

One thing is certain: you can't say it hasn't been an active season.  We just haven't had any action in the US. 

 

Updated 11:00am ET 9/28/06

Isaac Is 5th Tropical Storm of '06

On Familiar Course

New System Closer to US

Also: 

Remembering "Isaac's Storm"

The Storms Keep Coming...And Going

It's tough to say this hasn't been an active hurricane season.  We've had four hurricanes (two Cat 3's, two Cat 1's) and now have another tropical storm.  But like the last three storms before it, TS Isaac is on a course that would take it in the direction of Bermuda before being driven north and east and to the open Atlantic.  An active season doesn't necessarily mean there will be any storms that threaten the US.  And as of this writing, nothing of any significance has.  That isn't expected to change with TD 9.  However...

Tropical Wave Heads St. Maarten, Puerto Rico

It's small now, but shows enough potential for the National Hurricane Center to call it "Invest 97L.  This will bring rain and wind to the Caribbean in the short term and has some potential to continue on toward the US.  More likely another curve to sea before it gets close though wherever it goes it could turn into TD 10 or even a tropical storm before it's done.  Joyce follows Isaac on the name list this year, btw.  And speaking of Isaac...  

Isaac Will Be No "Isaac's Storm"

I had been waiting with some anticipation for the "I" storm this year.  It strikes me that Isaac (like Florence) makes a pretty good hurricane name.  It also brings to mind "Isaac's Storm", Erik Larson's wonderfully written account of the 1900 Galveston hurricane.  I sometimes think of that storm as "Isaac" though it was long before hurricanes began receiving names. Despite the horror of Katrina, btw, Galveston 1900 remains by far the most deadly hurricane in US history with at least 6000 and probably 8000+ dead.  Though the toll from Katrina is still being sorted out, it appears it will fall well short of 2000.  1836 was the last credible figure I saw which would place it 3rd on the all-time deadliest US list.  The 1928 Lake Okeechobee hurricane in Florida killed well over 2000.

The Real Hurricane Isaac...

There was a hurricane Isaac of some note, though like most of the storms this season it did not make US landfall.  Isaac was the second strongest hurricane of the Atlantic season in 2000.  It got to Cat 4 strength (140mph winds) but took a track much like this Isaac (if indeed it makes TS strength) is forecast to travel...another curver.  The storm was powerful enough, despite staying well off shore, to have capsized a boat off Long Island killing one person.  That was not enough notability to get the name retired (storm names are retired after they do significant damage) hence we still have Isaac on the list.  If we get Isaac out of TD 9, it doesn't figure to be notorious enough for retirement either.

Updated 12:30pm ET 9/23/06

Helene Finished As Hurricane

New System Has Some Potential

Rita Remembered

Also:

"What A Difference A Year Makes "

Another Storm Dodges Land

Helene is done as a hurricane and pretty much as a tropical system of any kind.  The former Category 3 continues racing to the north and east and away from US and any other land.  Exactly one year ago, the HurricaneNow team was in Beaumont, Texas bracing for what was also a Category 3 hurricane.  What a difference a year makes.  Read on below.  Meanwhile...

Tropical Wave Could Gain

It's about a thousand miles from the Cape Verde Islands and the tropical wave Invest 99L has potential for some strengthening.  There is limited wind shear and warm water in its path.  Some of the models take it on a curve to sea fairly soon.  Others see the potential for a more westward track that could take it near Bermuda or maybe even farther west.  No model yet projects it as a hurricane at any time. 

A Word From
Correspondent
Jeff Flock

"What A Difference A Year Makes"

As I write this it is precisely a year ago to the day that we were bracing in Beaumont for yet another catastrophic hurricane.  When we awoke in Texas September 23rd, Rita was a Category 4 storm, with 165mph winds.  The day before it had been an incredible Cat 5, the most intense hurricane ever in the Gulf of Mexico, breaking the record for low pressure set by Katrina just three short weeks earlier.  Rita ended up coming ashore as a Cat 3 with 115mph winds, actually the worst winds we'd expreienced all season given that we were in downtown New Orleans for Katrina. 

Rita A Record Hurricane

When the record books were done being updated after last year Rita ended up the fourth most intense storm on record.  Wilma broke Gilbert's all-time record low pressure of 888 milibars set in 1988, making it to 882 before it hit Florida.  Rita's low point was 895 mb topped only by Wilma, Gilbert and the Labor Day hurricane of 1935 which recorded 892.  But Rita had undergone a fierce intensification just a day earlier, recording the greatest one hour pressure drop in history.  It looked like as horrible as the catastrophy of Katrina, we were in for what could be an even greater storm in Texas and western Louisiana. 

Had The Rules Changed?

It was against this backdrop as well as that of the still growing crisis in New Orleans that we prepared to face Rita.  And at t the time we wondered if the hurricane landscape had changed forever.  We were dog tired and it was still peak hurricane season.  We had already dealt with Cindy, Dennis (a Cat 4) and Katrina so far and didn't even know we'd have another monster in Wilma to come, plus more scares that would take us until the winter to be free of.  Most years those of us who love to experience hurricanes are lucky to have a brush or two a season with a landfalling US storm.  But as we sat in Beaumont, we wondered when this year would end.  Was the intensity and number of Atlantic hurricanes ramping up?  Coming off a 2004 with multiple hurricanes hitting Florida, would we ever again have a season where we'd go all year with hardly a landfalling US storm to speak of?

No, Rules Remain

We now have our answer.   As incredible as 2005 was and despite all the dire predictions for this year, 2006 has been much more like a normal year than anything else.  Thankfully, for those in harm's way, there hasn't been much of a threat to life or property in the US from the hurricane season of 2006.  In truth, that's the way most hurricane seasons end up.  It hasn't been an incredibly inactive year.  Helene was a Cat 3 storm, just as Gordon before it.  The main difference that a year has made is that storms with those intensities are not making it to the US coast.  If the weather patterns that have been driving storms away from the US mainland had been different maybe we'd have seen a Cat 3 or even 4 Gordon or Helene on the coast of North Carolina or Florida.   And maybe we'd be thinking that all the rules we'd learned in 25 years of covering hurricanes had indeed changed.  That's not the way this year has shaken out.  That's what makes the weather so interesting. 

Jeff

 

 

Updated 11:00pm ET 9/20/06

Helene Turns Away From US

Yet Another Threat Curves

New System Investigated

Also:

"That Seemed Like A Hurricane"

Helene Takes A Florence/Gordon Turn

As expected, the season's second major hurricane has begun to take the path of the previous Cat 3 hurricane (Gordon) as well as the Cat 1 before that (Florence).  Helene looks like it will take a path well east of Bermuda, sparing the island another brush with heavy weather.  According to the National Hurricane Center, Helene shows the potential of gaining some strength before turning to the northeast and speeding off into the open Atlantic.  Gordon had quite a life after it took that turn, hitting the Azores and now continuing as an extratropical storm. 

Invest 96L Next Curver?

There is a tropical wave several hundred miles southwest of the Cape Verde Islands that shows signs of development, though none of the models currently develop into a hurricane.   The current track thinking on what the NHC has dubbed "Invest 96L" is (surprise), something along the lines of Florence, Gordon and Helene.  Yes, Bermuda, you may be in the sights again.  And once again, it doesn't appear this will be a US threat.  Could it be that the weak sister (brother) Ernesto will be the worst the continental US will see all year? 

 

Updated 1:15am ET 9/18/06

Helene A Big, Bad Storm

US Hit Unlikely, But Possible

Gordon Still A Hurricane Too

Also:

"That Seemed Like A Hurricane"

Major Hurricane #2

Helene has strengthened to a Cat 3 hurricane and the National Hurricane Center says it sees no reason why it shouldn't strengthen more.  Although the most respected of the intensity forecasts the SHIPS model sees no more than 123 mph winds despite conditions that would seem to favor strengthening.  Though the storm is in the middle of the Atlantic it continues to churn toward the US mainland and is expected to do so for the next couple days.  The question is will it make it all the way.  While there is some disagreement among the track models as to just where it will go, the likelihood is that it will be carried off to the north and east before it makes US landfall.  Nothing is certain at this stage however.  The bigger the storm (and it is getting pretty big) the more likelihood it might be carried off, but if it were to remain on track the size and intensity would make it a major threat.  As we're fond of saying: at this point we don't know. 

Gordon Still Swinging

The first major hurricane of the 2006 season, Gordon, has kept its identity as a hurricane and may do so for another day or more.  Gordon is expected to become extratropical eventually.   Normally we wouldn't care so much since the storm is in the middle of the Atlantic.  But a couple of interesting points: 1.It is possible that Gordon or what's left of it could affect the Azores in the next several days.  And, 2.Gordon may interact with another powerful extratropical cyclone and make something of a "Perfect Storm" that not be a hurricane, but might be worse.  More in my commentary below about "extratropical storms" and what they can accomplish. 

A Word From
Correspondent
Jeff Flock

And Even Worse...

What Florence did to Newfoundland last week long after she ceased being a tropical system is a reminder that it doesn't take a hurricane to produce hurricane-like damage.   As you'll read in this section of HurricaneNow.com describing why we do what we do, my first memory as a child is of Hurricane Donna hitting New Jersey in 1960.    But my most vivid childhood weather memory was the "Great March Storm of 1962."  Sometimes called the "The Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962," it was one of the most destructive systems ever to hit the Mid-Atlantic states.   In fact it is listed as one of the ten worst storms to have hit anywhere in the United States in the 20th century.  It did $80 mil. damage in 1962 dollars, in New Jersey alone, destroying 45,000 homes.  It ripped apart some of Atlantic City's "Steel Pier" and the famous horse "Misty of Chincoteague" made famous in the children's book, survived the storm by being brought inside a house.  Perhaps you or your children also read "Stormy, Misty's Foal," which was about Misty's foal born just after the storm.

I still have a picture book of the Great March Storm's damage put out by the local newspaper and the aftermath sure looks like a hurricane went through.  I always thought of it as a hurricane but it was in fact a "Noreaster."  Though no where near as bad, that's some of what the folks in Newfoundland got from the former hurricane Florence.  It demonstrates that just because a storm is no longer "tropical" (or a so-called "warm core" storm fueled by the ocean's heat) it can still be just as powerful. 

 

Updated 12:15am ET 9/15/06

Gordon Still Major 'Cane

TS Helene Slow to Strengthen

Florence Hits Newfoundland

Also:

Jeff Flock: "A Hurricane By Any Other Name..."

Gordon

It's hard to say we've had a light hurricane season with Ernesto, Florence and now Gordon as hurricanes and the last of these still hanging on to its intensity as it spins out in middle of the Atlantic.  While it's no land threat the satellite presentation has been impressive.  Not so much for...

Helene

This tropical storm has been slow to anger.  Some dry air has been introducing itself into the system which has dampened intensification, though conditions should be more favorable as time goes on.  The National Hurricane Center continues to see a hurricane of good size and intensity sometime in the next 3-4 days.   It remains too early to say how far west it will make it.  Bermuda should not be ruled out and at this point neither should the east coast of the US, though this remains unlikely.   By the way...

Florence

It may have ceased being a tropical system days ago but the folks in Newfoundland got their own hurricane of a system as the storm did a pretty good job of lashing the southern part of the country.   Hurricane force winds whipped the coast and Weather Underground's Jeff Masters posted this link to damage reports from the Halifax Chronicle Herald.

A Word From
Correspondent
Jeff Flock

And Even Worse...

What Florence did to Newfoundland is a reminder that it doesn't take a hurricane to produce hurricane-like damage.   As you'll read in this section of HurricaneNow.com describing why we do what we do, my first memory as a child is of Hurricane Donna hitting New Jersey in 1960.    But my most vivid childhood weather memory was the "Great March Storm of 1962."  Sometimes called the "The Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962," it was one of the most destructive systems ever to hit the Mid-Atlantic states.   In fact it is listed as one of the ten worst storms to have hit anywhere in the United States in the 20th century.  It did $80 mil. damage in 1962 dollars, in New Jersey alone, destroying 45,000 homes.  It ripped apart some of Atlantic City's "Steel Pier" and the famous horse "Misty of Chincoteague" made famous in the children's book, survived the storm by being brought inside a house.  Perhaps you or your children also read "Stormy, Misty's Foal," which was about Misty's foal born just after the storm.

I still have a picture book of the Great March Storm's damage put out by the local newspaper and the aftermath sure looks like a hurricane went through.  I always thought of it as a hurricane but it was in fact a "Noreaster."  Though no where near as bad, that's some of what the folks in Newfoundland got from the former hurricane Florence.  It demonstrates that just because a storm is no longer "tropical" (or a so-called "warm core" storm fueled by the ocean's heat) it can still be just as powerful. 

 

Updated 2:00am ET 9/14/06

Gordon Grows to Cat 3

TS Helene Forms In Atlantic

Neither Seen To Threaten US

Also:

Bermuda Hurricanes

First Major Hurricane of 2006

The good news of course is that Gordon has absolutely no chance of hitting the United States.  The bad is that it has become a powerful storm with winds upwards of 120 mph.  Imagine if this one was bearing down on the US coast now, intensifying as it moves as Gordon is.   But for the vagaries of weather patterns that are curling storms north and back to the east, some coastal US communities would be in deep prep/evac mode right now.  It is a small storm though, with hurricane force winds only 30 miles out from the center.  Of more concern...

Helene

Already a tropical storm, this one also has the potential to make a hurricane and perhaps a powerful one.  It is also much larger than Gordon.  Most likely target: again Bermuda, though the possibility exists it could make the US coast.  It would likely be an Atlantic coast threat, probably Carolinas or north, though a US hit at all is unlikely.   Most likely the jet stream will curve it to the north and east as has been the case with siblings Florence and Gordon.  But if Helene strengthens as predicted, that would make three hurricanes in a row which makes this a pretty active season...thankfully active for hurricanes not for disasters. 

Bermuda Hurricane History

Since Bermuda seems to be on tap for another threat from would-be hurricane Helene, we'll reprise our storm perspective on the tiny British posession in the Atlantic.  Long a relatively nearby but foreighn vacation destination for US travellers, Bermuda is a small target, but is well-prepared for hurricanes, with strict building codes and power and phone cables underground.  Given its vulnerability in the Atlantic and having experienced the famed Havana-Bermuda Hurricane of 1926, Bermuda knows hurricanes.  The 1926 storm was a late season hurricane that reached Category 4 strength.  It hit Cuba at Cat 3, devastating Havana and making it one of the most deadly storms to ever hit Cuba.  It weakened, passed across the Florida peninsula and then reintensified to Cat 4 and hit Bermuda dead on.  88 people were killed there.  A total of 738 people lost their lives to the storm on its trek through Cuba, the Bahamas and Bermuda. The damage estimate was $1 billion current dollars in total. 

The last decent size hurricane to hit Bermuda was Fabian in 2003.  It killed 4 and did $300 million in damage. 

Updated 1:00am ET 9/13/06

Florence Done; Gordon A Hurricane

TD 8 Should Be Helene Soon

No US Threats Seen

Also:

Hurricane Target: Bermuda

Florence

It has become extratropical and is weakening.  Florence still packs some punch but it will continue north and east and not be of concern to the US coast except from the high surf.  Here is the surf cam from Nags Head, North Carolina. You can find other east coast cams from this link also. Bermuda got a Cat 1 storm and that they can handle.  Minor damage reported from Florence. 

Gordon

No threat to any land, even Bermuda.  It is already turning north well east of the British island.  It will curl to more open water just like Florence. Gordon is a much smaller storm in size. 

TD 8

This should be TS Helene before too long and has the potential to be a hurricane more powerful than either Florence or Gordon.  But like its older siblings it likely lacks the potential of threatening any land, save Bermuda.  It too will likely get caught in the westerlies and curl to sea.  But it's far enough out that it will take a while. 

Bermuda Hurricane History

Since Bermuda seems to be the only possible piece of land in danger in this recent spate of storms we'll repeat our perspective from earlier on the tiny British posession in the Atlantic.  Because of the way the weather patterns are lining up, Florence, Gordon and perhaps Helene have, are or could be setting their sights on Bermuda, long a vacation destination for US travellers, is a small target, but is well-prepared for hurricanes, with strict building codes and power and phone cables underground.  And well it should be prepared given its vulnerability in the Atlantic and having experienced the famed Havana-Bermuda Hurricane of 1926.  That was a late season storm that reached Category 4 strength.  It hit Cuba at Cat 3, devastating Havana and making it one of the most deadly storms to ever hit Cuba.  It weakened, passed across the Florida peninsula and then reintensified to Cat 4 and hit Bermuda dead on.  88 people were killed there.  A total of 738 people lost their lives to the storm on its trek through Cuba, the Bahamas and Bermuda. The damage estimate was $1 billion current dollars in total. 

The last decent size hurricane to hit Bermuda was Fabian in 2003.  It killed 4 and did $300 million in damage. 

 

Updated 10:30p ET 9/11/06

Florence Blasts Bermuda

Gordon Could Follow

Neither Threaten US

Also:

Bermuda Hurricane History

Florence

It wasn't a direct hit.  But given the size of the storm, that didn't make much difference to Bermuda.  Wind gusts approached 100mph on the island but fortunately Florence remained just short of Cat 2 intensity.  It did pass to the west, giving the island the most powerful side of the storm.  It's now moving away from Bermuda and continuing to move away from the mainland US.  It should begin to weaken shortly.  Meanwhile...

Gordon

The seventh named storm of the season is expected to become the third hurricane of the year.  But like Florence, the forecast track also shows a curve back to the north and east long before the US is threatened.  In fact Gordon should curl back to the east of Bermuda which means it shouldn't get as big a hit.  The storm is also much smaller than Florence.  If Gordon makes a hurriane it will make 2006 far from a light hurricane season.  It's just that nothing much has attacked the US coast. 

Hurricane Target: Bermuda

Because of the way the weather patterns are lining up, Florence, Gordon and perhaps the next storm (that would be Helene) have, are or could be setting their sights on the tiny British posession in the Atlantic.  Bermuda, long a vacation destination for US travellers, is a small target, but is well-prepared for hurricanes, with strict building codes and power and phone cables underground.  And well it should be prepared given its vulnerability in the Atlantic and having experienced the famed Havana-Bermuda Hurricane of 1926.  It was a late season storm that reached Category 4 strength.  It hit Cuba at Cat 3, devastating Havana and making it one of the most deadly storms to ever hit Cuba.  It weakened, passed across the Florida peninsula and then reintensified to Cat 4 and hit Bermuda dead on.  88 people were killed there.  A total of 738 people lost their lives to the storm on its trek through Cuba, the Bahamas and Bermudas. The damage estimate was $1 billion current dollars. 

 

Updated 11:45p ET 9/09/06

Florence Finally Revs Up

Hurricane Aims At Bermuda

US Coast Seems Safe

Huricane #2 Of 2006 Season

Finally, this obstinate storm has intensified to hurricane strength as has been predicted for the last few days.  There should still be enough time to strengthen further before encountering the only land it figures to find: Bermuda.  The current track still takes it almost right over the island. 

Almost Dead On

This will not be a pleasant experience for the folks in Bermuda.  It's a small island and in additon to the winds and rain there should also be some nasty waves lashing the island.  This is a big system with tropical storm force winds more than 250 miles out from the center.  And it has been churning the waters for a while which means the waves are getting big. Here is the Bermuda swell chart which predicts 16 foot waves on the coast and 25 foot seas just offshore.

As for the when, it looks like a storm hit of sometime Monday morning.   And here's the latest surf report from Bermuda indicating the highest waves on Tuesday afternoon sometime after the storm hits. 

US Coast Not In Danger

The storm has already started making its turn to the north and will eventually curve northeast and out to the open Atlantic.  There is pretty high confidence in this track.  The worst we can expect on the US coast is some good waves for the surfers. 

There's Never Been A Hurricane Season Without a Hurricane

Yesterday, given the fact we are deep into hurricane season with only one (barely) hurricane on the board, we mentioned the possibility this could be one of the lightest storm seasons on record.  As promised, some perspective:

-Fewest Hurricanes-1982 which saw just two hurricanes form.

-Fewest Named Storms-A year later, 1983.

-Major Hurricanes-0 as you might guess and it's happened many times, the last in 1994.

-US Landfalling Hurricanes-Indeed there have been years with no hurricanes hitting the US, the latest was 2001.

-US Landfalling Storms-The record for fewest is just one and it's happened many times, the last in 1991.

To sum up, it's a light year so far, but still not in danger of being the lightest.  And there is plenty more season to go.   The interesting thing to me is that this relative lack of action comes a year after the most active hurricane season on record and in the face of so many predictions about an above average season.

 

Updated 12:30a ET 9/08/06

Big Storm; Little Action

Florence A Large Weakling

US Hit Remains Unlikely

Florence Refuses To Get Stronger

We keep pointing out that Florence is a big storm.  Indeed tropical storm force winds now extend more than 400 miles out from the center, meaning that there is a swath of 40-50 mph winds that spans about 800 miles across the Atlantic.   But big doesn't mean much meteorologically.  The storm, as the NHC points out, "refuses to strengthen," despite fairly favorable conditions.  In fact, the latest data suggest it may have actually gotten slightly weaker as it continues on its northwesterly track currently in the direction of the US.

Still Forecast To Be First Hurricane of 2006

The hurricane center continues to forecast Florence becoming a hurricane in the next several days.  But, most important, the official forecast and all the models remain in agreement that there will be a gradual turn to the north and then northeast and away from land.  And it seems increasingly likely that will take place not only long before the US coast is reached but even before the island of Bermuda.  If the hurricane center is right, Florence will become a large, fairly powerful storm.  But like the tree that falls in the forest with no one to hear it, this storm will fall hundreds of miles from land with only the passing ships to mark it. 

Nothing Else Cooking Either

There was another area of disturbed weather that had some potential to the south of Florence but the stronger system has pretty much laid waste to the weaker, leaving not much of anything spinning up in the Atlantic.  As we mentioned yesterday, this dearth of action comes despite the fact that we are into peak hurricane season. 

 

Updated 12:00a ET 9/07/06

Florence To Be Hurricane

But Unlikely To Threaten US

Could Be A Big, Bad Storm

Already A Big System

Good news and bad on Florence, or perhaps bad and good.  The bad is that it remains a pretty large system, though it remains difficult to find a decent center of circulation.  Also bad is that the National Hurricane Center continues to see the potential for some significant development, perhaps even to a 115mph hurricane (that's a Cat 3).  But by far the best of the good news is that all the major models now agree with what we said here yesterday, that it is likely to curl first north and then back away from the US coast long before it gets anywhere near it.  Bad news only for the ships at sea.

We're In Peak Season

It now looks pretty certain that we'll have probably another decent week or two in the clear from hurricane activity.  And we are now in the early to mid-September peak.  Here is NOAA's definition of the "peak":

"The Atlantic basin shows a very peaked season from August through October, with 78% of the tropical storm days, 87% of the minor (Saffir-Simpson Scale categories 1 and 2 - see Subject D1) hurricane days, and 96% of the major (Saffir-Simpson categories 3, 4 and 5) hurricane days occurring then (Landsea 1993). Maximum activity is in early to mid September."(emphasis mine)

Caveat

This of course does not mean if we get past the peak of the peak that we're in the clear.  Last year's Katrina disaster did not come in peak season, it came before.  Perhaps this year disaster will come after.  As they say, we're taking it one day at a time.   

 

Updated 1:00a ET 9/06/06

Florence An Expected Curver

But Forecast Track Unreliable

Big Storm; Could Develop, Threaten

Florence is 6th named storm of season

Given the look of the storm, the National Hurricane Center was probably being generous in designating Frances a tropical storm at this stage.  One thing is clear from the satellite pics: this is a fairly large system.  The hurricane center sees the potential for Florence to become a hurricane in two days.  Other models don't see as much potential.  The models all seem to indicate that the storm will curve to the north long before it hits the US coast, but at this early stage, the track is highly unreliable.  

Pretty Calm Season So Far

If this fails to develop or curves or curls as expected, we'll likely make it to the second week of September without a significant storm threatening the US coast this hurricane season.  This despite all predictions for the worst this year.  The potential still remains, however.  But at this point the stars just haven't aligned to put together a significant system.  This is the point that I made in this space at the outset of the season.  Just because conditions point to a busy season doesn't mean it's going to happen.  This is weather, after all.  And so far in 2006, the tropical weather hasn't been so bad. 

 

Updated 230p ET 9/5/06

It's Tropical Storm Florence Now

"Very large" storm in center of Atlantic

Too Early to Predict Landfall

Florence is 6th named storm of season

The tropical depression near the mid-point of the Atlantic Ocean has begun to organize, with some of its maximum sustained tropical storm force winds reaching 40 MPH. TS Florence is still over 900 miles east of the Lesser Antilles, and with a number of variables at work as it makes its trek to the west, it's hard for forecasters to say whether or not this storm will threaten the US east coast, perhaps sometime next week. The weather system covers a large area in the Atlantic, but is still not swirling tightly enough to give forecasters a clear sense of its expected direction or intensity over the next few days.

The National Hurricane Center calls for Florence to reach hurricane force winds Friday morning, but at this moment they are closely watching nearby weather systems that could affect whether Florence could continue toward the east coast or might steer more to the north. Either way, it's a very large storm and bears close monitoring for days to come.

Another Storm About to Form

This is the time of the season when we see more of the "Cape Verde" storms, those disturbances that form in the warm waters of the late summer off the coast of Africa near the Cape Verde Islands. These storms often have a period of days to strengthen and become better organized as they make the trek across the tropical waters of the Atlantic.  Another "Cape Verde" tropical wave is beginning to form, about 800 miles east and slightly south of TS Florence's current location. Watch for this one to become a tropical depression in the next day or two.

 

Updated 12a ET 9/4/06

TD 6 Forms in Atlantic

Could Be TS Florence Shortly

Another Wave Eyed

Florence Would Be Next

We getting to the peak part of the season so it figures there should be some action.   Florence is a good hurricane name and the models seem to indicate that is what we'll have sometime this week.  It is a long way out however, well over a thousand miles east of the Lesser Antilles right now and model guidance is notoriously suspect this early on.  A few models make it a Carolinas or perhaps northeast US storm.  Others take it on a more southerly track that could target Florida or the Gulf.  At this point it's way too early to tell.

Forecasters Investigate Another Wave

There is another of area of disturbed weather north of the South American coast, though most models keep it on a deep southerly track that would take it to Central America or Mexico.   

Updated 7p ET 8/31/06

Ernesto takes aim at Carolina coast

Could make landfall as Category 1 hurricane

After a week-long trek from the Caribbean, through the waters off Jamaica when it first reached hurricane strength, and a march across Cuba and into the Florida peninsula that weakened the storm, Ernesto is gaining strength as it approaches landfall in the Carolinas late tonight. TS Ernesto is about 100 miles south-southwest of Wilmington North Carolina and already bringing stormy conditions to Myrtle Beach and the Outer Banks.

Heavy weather still to come

Tornado watches are in effect for much of the area through the night. Storm surge, flooding and winds in excess of 70 MPH will make it a rough night for coastal and inland residents. At 7pm Et, our WeatherBug partners reported 24 MPH winds and heavy rain at Wilmington's airport.

 

Updated 1130p ET 8/29/06

Ernesto ashore as Tropical Storm

Florida spared a more powerful hit

Hurricane watch for Ga., Carolina coasts

And... remembering Katrina

 

By Rob Hess

HurricaneNow.com

Ernesto failed to intensify as it approached the Keys and the southern tip of Florida Tuesday night. Residents of the state should be relieved to have no more than a stormy night this time. As the system churns north over land, forecasters are watching for possible strengthening late Wednesday as Ernesto is expected to head back into the Atlantic. A hurricane watch is up for an area from the Georgia coast north to Cape Fear, North Carolina.

We'll have another update on Ernesto soon. What a difference a year makes. Last year at this time, Jeff Flock and I were turning in for the night at our downtown New Orleans hotel. We were exhausted, having spent the previous 24 hours feeding live coverage of Katrina's force as it swept ashore (you can view some of our archived coverage in our video pages on this site).

We spent many hours watching the fierce wind and sheets of rain attack some of the buildings and streets from our vantage point in a parking garage, a few blocks from the Superdome and the French Quarter. We watched as the wind began to rip away the walls and facing of a nearby hotel where many took shelter the night before. Windows blew out and insulation was ripped away from the outer walls of the hotel. We saw several people sneaking a peek at the storm as it threatened to tear apart their shelter. Nearby, glass from shattered windows rained in the street, and we feared that it might come crashing down on us. Thankfully, it did not.

When the storm began to pass our location, Jeff and I decided to try to find a way out of town. We knew the bridge we crossed from Slidell the day before was gone, so we headed west. The highways were desolate, except for us and a few emergency vehicles, and they had the same problem we had: no where to go. We reached a point where the road was flooded, and there was a car submerged in the water. We had no choice but to turn around and head back to downtown New Orleans, where downed trees and bricks from damaged buildings littered the streets, making our travel hazardous.

We found refuge with friends in a downtown hotel, where the spirit hours after Katrina had passed was surprisingly upbeat. Staff at the hotel rallied the troops to serve a hot meal, encouraging guests and staff to stay put and ride out the crisis for a few days. A generator powered one elevator in the high rise hotel, and more power was anticipated soon. Water taps didn't run, toilets didn't flush, and there was no air conditioning in a hotel with windows sealed on a hot August night. Our cellphones didn't work either, but all of this seemed OK to me at this point. Tomorrow was another day, we were relieved to have a place to sleep at last.

The morning after Katrina...our story continues...in our next update.

 

 

The Latest News:

Updated 11p ET 8/28/06

TS Ernesto Treks North

Florida preps for tropical storm

Next stop: Carolinas? Or inland?

 

The first hurricane of the 2006 season has weakened after a Cuba landfall, and the storm is now ready to steer north toward Florida and beyond. Earlier forecasts that indicated a hurricane landfall in south Florida are now in doubt. Whether Ernesto will have enough strength to continue north to the Carolinas remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, tropical storm warnings and hurricane watches extend to the southern ends of both coasts of the Florida peninsula. The threat of hurricane force winds to the Carolina coast appears to be diminishing. But this storm has been changing its track quite a bit during its short life, and it bears watching.

 

The Latest News:

Updated 630p ET 8/28/06

Ernesto Over Cuba

Storm weakens, disorganizes

Where will it go next?

What was once Hurricane Ernesto became battered and weakened as it fought its way through rough terrain in Cuba. Once the storm emerges over water in the Florida straits tonight, it could intensify and reorganize, but will it have enough time and energy to strengthen before it reaches land again? It will take some careful watching to see whether any steering currents to the east are strong enough to push the storm into the Gulf of Mexico,as some of the models suggest. The National Hurricane Center's forecast track lines up more closely with the GFDL model track, calling for a possible landfall somewhere in south Florida, perhaps more to the eastern side of the peninsula.

If there's any consistency in the forecasts of Ernesto these past few days, you could say it's been about change. Almost every forecast run since Ernesto became a Tropical Storm has steered the track more to the east of previous forecasts. Will this trend continue through the night? Some forecasters have suggested "maybe not." It will be interesting watching this one over the next few hours. Meanwhile, residents of the Bahamas and south Florida best be ready for what Dr. Jeff Masters calls "a very wet tropical storm." Stay tuned.

 

 

The Latest News:

Updated 430p ET 8/28/06

Ernesto Over Cuba

Path Remains Uncertain

Watching and Waiting

 

For several hours today, Ernesto tracks across the island of Cuba, where mountainous terrain is weakening the storm even as heavy rains fall. The system is a tropical storm now, and when the center of circulation crosses into the Florida Straits later today, there is still an opportunity for the storm to strengthen. The big question now is whether Ernesto will continue to curve to the northeast, as some of the models have been indicating, or if the previous guidance on a move into the Gulf of Mexico may be back in play.

Experts and Data

The National Hurricane Center's 5p ET update may contain some guidance from the model runs conducted this morning, and that information may help forecasters project which way the storm will move. But keep in mind that those models are based on data collected before Ernesto's several hours spent over Cuba. It may take another few hours before we'll have a better idea of what may happen to the storm during the next couple of days.

We'll be back with another update shortly.

 

The Latest News:

Haiti Weakens Ernesto

Florida Still Targeted

Restrengthening Likely

Commentary:

"The Unthinkable"

Ernesto Not Hurricane Long-Will Likely Revive

As we pointed out earlier, the National Hurricane Center has been cautious with this one.  They were perhaps generous in declaring Ernesto a hurricane earlier today.  Now it appears the interaction with the mountains of Haiti have weakened it to well below hurricane status.  This does point out that not only is weather forecasting far from an exact science, it's not so easy to be clear on what is happening at the moment either. 

Model Runs

Two of the National Hurricane Center's most reliable models provide bookends for the NHC plot.  The latest GFDL model takes Ernesto over Cuba and up to the Florida panhandle.  The GFS takes it over Cuba and then the eastern coast of Florida.  The NHC forecast runs close to the middle.  In his last briefing Max Mayfield, the National Hurricane Center director talked about the "Charley" scenario that we mentioned in our last commentary.  The NHC doesn't want anyone surprised by this storm as they were when hurricane Charley made a right turn into the western Florida coast and intensified quickly as it did. The hurricane center would rather cry a little wolf and have people looking for Ernesto the wolf that turns out being a lamb rather than have anyone surprised on either the east or west coasts of Florida. 

Best Case

The most compelling scenario would be for Ernesto to spend a long time over the rugged terrain of Cuba and knock it down in intensity and then have it make a quick trip across the warm Florida straights, then hit the unpopulated Everglades and curve off to the east. 

The Latest News:

Ernesto Is First '06 Hurricane

Florida Likely US Target

Look Out Haiti and Cuba

Commentary:

"The Unthinkable"

 

National Hurricane Center Issues Cautious Predictions

It's taken until almost to the September 1st kickoff of the meat of hurricane season to get the first official hurricane of 2006.  Though the latest pressure readings from the storm don't show much strengthening, the NHC has upgraded Ernesto to a hurricane based on decreasing wind shear on the storm and an improving satellite picture.  As always, but especially this year the hurricane center is erring on the side of caution with its intensity predictions.  Right now it is forecasting a possible Cat 2 storm when it hits Cuba.

Track Moves East

Forecasters are now saying the storm will cross Cuba and likely make US landfall along the west coast of Florida with a curl as opposed ot heading north to New Orleans, Mississippi, Alabama or the Florida panhandle.  This despite most model runs which take it more westward.  This represents another bit of caution from the NHC.  They don't want a repeat of the Charley scenario two years ago which had them forecasting a relatively weak hurricane hitting farther north up the Florida coast.  In fact, the storm rapidly intensified and made an early landfall in southern Florida surprising everyone.  Bottom line: the NHC doesn't want to give anyone a false sense of security. 

How Powerful?

As we said, it's a cautious prediction.  Now the hurricane center says Ernesto could be Cat 2 by the time it makes landfall in Cuba.  It would theoretically then weaken over land but is now forecast to reintensify to potential Cat 3 before hitting Florida, first the keys and then the west coast.  Though there is tremendously warm water between Jamaica and the southern Cuba coast the current track doesn't take much of it over the warmest of water.  And if the storm spends signficant time over Cuba it could be significantly weakened and if it moves off more over the Everglades than the Keys, the scenario could be extremely less threatening.  Again, caution is the byword in the National Hurricane Center outlook.  And who can argue.     

Tropical Depression Debby

Struggling and increasingly less a factor.

Updated: 8/27/2006 5:00pET

A Word From
Correspondent
Jeff Flock

Katrina Anniversary Pre-Empted By Real News?  Unthinkable

Everyone in the mainstream media has been waiting for this next week for months.  They love anniversaries.  And when it comes to hurricanes there is no bigger one than the anniversary that looms on Tuesday, August 29.  That's the morning the storm record books got rewritten.  We were holed up in a parking garage two blocks off Canal street in downtown New Orleans.  The power went off in the early morning hours.  The wind was howling.  We began to see windows blowing out of skyscrapers.  Water swirled in the streets.  We heard a report that the Superdome roof was peeling back but we couldn't get over there to check.  Hurricane Katrina was coming ashore and while we knew it was bad, we had no idea of the devastation it would cause, even as we sat in the middle of it.

The papers, cable TV channels, networks have been readying their anniversary coverage and background pieces and reports and they are now running them or preparing them for release on Monday and Tuesday.  And while the reporting will be valuable so we keep perspective and never forget, the fact is the horror of Katrina is history.  But the real news of the week may be fresh horror visited on the very same spot almost exactly a year later.   

It is way too early to make the forecast that a hurricane Ernesto will hit New Orleans.  The storm could go farther west or even curl to Florida.  It could possibly be a far weaker hurricane than Katrina and at this point it is even possible the storm could severely weaken or even dissipate.  But as I write, the possibility exists that this new storm could head straight for somewhere near New Orleans (that's the current NHC long range trend) and it could come in at an intensity level even greater than Katrina.  Most people fail to remember that for all the talk of Cat 4 and 5 with Katrina it made landfall in New Orleans as a Cat 3 storm.  As of Saturday, Ernesto was seen by the NHC as a Cat 3 well before landfall with potential for worse.  At this point even a Cat 1 storm in New Orleans would be a peculair horror.  Can you imagine another catastrophic storm in the same town?  Remember people like House Speaker Dennis Hastert who last year said maybe we shouldn't bother to rebuild New Orleans. Most people didn't like the idea of giving up after last year's disaster.  If a Cat 3 or better hits New Orleans again, there may be little else to do.  There won't be much point in running those anniversary pieces.   

previous posts:

Could We Soon Be In Hot Water?

Whether you follow hurricanes or even care about the weather, it would be hard to be almost anywhere in the US the past week and not feel the effects of the searing heat.  I covered the 1995 heat wave in Chicago which killed more than 700 people.  The memory of the bodies and the food refridgeration trucks in the parking lot of the Cook County Morgue to handle the overflow is burned forever in my memory.   This heatwave is hitting a much larger area...more than 100 heat deaths in California and a heat-fed spate of wildfires, the heat danger advisories here in the midwest and when it leaves us here it's headed east to cook some more.   Given that hurricanes feed on hot water some have wondered whether all this heat has been raising sea surface temperatures and thereby increasing the possibility of more powerful hurricanes. 

Seas Are Huge

Seas cover more than 70 percent of the earth's surface and so they absorb most of the solar heat that shines down on them.  The sea also retains that heat for much longer time than either the land or the rest of the atmosphere.  But because the seas are so vast it takes a lot of heat energy and a lot of time to begin to shift sea surface temperatures.  It may be a nasty heat wave to us, but to the Atlantic, the Gulf of Mexico and the tropics, a heatwave, even a bad one, doesn't do much to raise temps.  Still, it's worth looking at where sea surface temperatures stand as we head towards peak hurricane season. 

How Hot Is It?

Here is a link to the latest sea surface temperature anomaly map.   As you can see, it shows fairly normal temperatures, with the most abnormally warm water around the US mainland just off the northeast coast.

What's The Trend?

In addition to the static map, NOAA puts out this nice animation that gives you a sense of how temperatures have been shifting.   If you keep an eye on the dates as well as the map, you can see that the area off the northeast had been fairly normal but in July began to trend warmer.  The current hot weather coming off the east coast and traversing the Atlantic is certain not to make sea surface temperatures any colder.  Of course, if we don't get a hurricane in those waters it really doesn't matter how hot they get.  But if we do, the scenario that so many reporters and researchers have been discussing this year (Here's a link to a CBS News piece about what a northeast 'cane could do) could come true.  The scary numbers on a Cat 3 direct hit on NYC: perhaps $200 bil. in damage...what would be the nation's worst-ever economic disaster.  It would be twice as bad as 9-11, three times the impact of Katrina.  Then we're all in hot water.

Jeff

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Previous Posts:

Only Small Adjustment to Prediction

The government has downgraded it's hurricane forecast for this season, reducing by one the number of storms, hurricanes and major hurricanes it sees for 2006.   Here's the NOAA link to the full report.   NOAA points to high wind shear as contributing to the relative lack of tropical development so far this year.  And while they see continuing above average sea surface temperatures, the SSTs are below last year's abnormally high temperatures in the middle of the Atlantic between the US and Africa where waves tend to develop. 

Bottom line: the government continues to see this as an above average hurricane season, though it now says a repeat of the incredible 2005 season is "unlikely."

Action in Tropics

There are three areas of particular activity in the tropics, though none shows fantastic potential.  The hurricane center has put out a special tropical disturbance statement on the most promising of the disturbed weather areas:

REPORTS FROM AN AIR FORCE RECONNAISSANCE PLANE INDICATE THAT THE TROPICAL WAVE NEAR THE LESSER ANTILLES DOES NOT HAVE A CLOSED SURFACE CIRCULATION. HOWEVER...THE POTENTIAL STILL EXISTS FOR THIS SYSTEM TO BECOME A TROPICAL DEPRESSION DURING THE NEXT DAY OR SO. SHOWERS AND THUNDERSTORMS WITH GUSTY WINDS TO TROPICAL STORM FORCE ARE STILL POSSIBLE AS THE WAVE MOVES ACROSS THE LESSER ANTILLES TODAY AND TONIGHT.

Could This Be A Quiet Year?

In contrast to most other predictions, our Jeff Flock opined that this might just be a reasonably quiet hurricane season (see his "Word From" below).  While acknowledging conditions were ripe for another rough year, Jeff pointed out that prime conditions don't necessarily mean big storms will form or hit US land.  Point taken.  And  so far his prediction seems prescient, with just one relatively weak tropical storm forming in June.  The most common Hurricane Center outlook on most of the tropical waves so far have been the likes of: "upper level winds are unfavorable for development"...and, "Tropical Storm formation is not likely."

To Be Expected

Though there were a couple early season tropical storms in June last year (Arlene and Brett) followed by a packed July (hurricanes Cindy, Dennis and Emily in quick succession), most years don't see much action in June. 

In 2004, which featured three cat 4 hurricanes (including Charley which ripped the southwest Florida coast) and Cat 5 Ivan, the first tropical storm didn't form until the last day of July.

In 2003, there was an extraordinarily early TS in April, another in June, but most action didn't come until much later with Cat 4 Fabian and Cat 5 Isabel.

In 2002, the first tropical storm didn't come until the middle of July (the year featured Cat 4 Lilli). 

In 2001 there was one TS in June and then not another until August..  But there was still plenty of time for two Cat 4s, Iris and Michelle.

And, in 2000 the first storm didn't come until August but there were still two Cat 4s that year.   

The point is, it may be hurricane season, but it really isn't the time of the season when most of the big hurricane action comes.  That is yet to come. 

Is This 2006 or 2005?

Who knows what's to come, but so far the 2006 hurricane season looks remarkably like the start of the 2005 season.  Both years have featured an early tropical storm and then tropical activity at the end of the month.  To wit:

-The 2005 season was kicked off on June 8th with tropical storm Arlene.  It didn't make it to hurricane strength though it did hit the US coast near the Florida/Alabama border. 

-This year, tropical storm Alberto formed on the 11th and also failed to become a hurricane but also hit Florida from the Gulf. 

-In 2005, there was a two week lull and then tropical action at the end of the month with tropical storm Brett forming on the 28th of June.  It did not make US landfall.

-This year there are a couple of areas forecasters are now watching: one off the coast of Florida the other north of the southwest coast of South America.  Neither of those areas of activity are forecast to become a tropical storm.   

What's To Come?

In 2005 we got tropical fireworks for the 4th of July with Hurricane Cindy running from the 3rd to the 6th and Dennis forming on the 5th and making it to Cat 4 strength before hitting the Florida panhandle on the 11th.

If we get a similar pattern this year we better watch out for the third week of August.  That's when a girl named Katrina was born. 

Alberto Never Made It To Hurricane Status

Now that Alberto has moved out to sea, we'll be watching for more developing storms in the Caribbean and eastern Atlantic. We kept an eye on Crystal Beach here through Alberto's landfall, with help from WeatherBug, and while Alberto's wind speeds rarely clocked above 40 MPH, the storm surge brought flooding there and in other areas of the sparsely populated Big Bend region.

Some have said this storm was a good test, to help people learn how to prepare for more intense storms. In addition to being an unusual early season storm, Alberto brought needed relief to parched land that has been suffering with drought lately in North Florida..

Check the latest satellite pics from NOAA.

Last Year An Anomaly?

Many people assumed that with better forecasting, so much attention paid to hurricanes and better preparation we would never have again have significant loss of life from a land falling US hurricane.  Sure some would always die, but not on a massive scale was the theory.  The latest death toll from Katrina is now at 1,823. 

The updated June 1 forecasts from the government, the experienced team at Colorado State University and others show predictions of what amounts to twice the amount of normal hurricane activity this year.  That would be well short of last year's record-breaking numbers and intensities but still a very bad year.   Can we trust the predictions?  See the latest word from our chief correspondent Jeff Flock, below.

HurricaneNow

We've called HurricaneNow, "a revolution in hurricane reporting."  And last year that's just what we achieved.  We made history last year, broadcasting multiple, non-stop hours of on-the-ground, from-the-epicenter coverage of all landfalling US hurricanes.  As the "three evil sisters," Katrina, Rita and Wilma, were coming ashore, we streamed no less than 6 consecutive hours of live coverage of each of the landfalls.  Our subscribers watched, non-stop, as the storms neared the coast, came ashore and passed on.   Click on the 2005 Coverage Video links above left or on "Video Control Room" on the above navigation bar for a taste. 

Our teams intercepted Katrina on the east coast of Florida, tracked and reported live as it crossed the Everglades and then supplied 7 straight hours of coverage from downtown New Orleans as it struck.   We were live all night from Beaumont, Texas as each of the cable and broadcast networks and local TV stations dropped off the air.  We went non-stop for 8 straight hours of live pictures, the sounds of the storm and reporting from our teams.   

Last year we employed both the latest and proprietary technologies to accomplish what had never been done before as nature also accomplished its own history.  It was the perfect storm of technology and the awesome power of hurricanes.  And it was only the begining.  Our chief correspondent, Jeff Flock, was the the air and on the scene for both those storms.  His 2006 thoughts:

A Word From
Correspondent
Jeff Flock

Can We Believe It?

Everyone updates their tropical forecast on the first day of hurricane season.  Most of the experts are forecasting about twice the normal activity after 2005's records:

-Record-breaking 7 storms in June/July

-A record 7 major Cat 3 or better hurricanes

-First ever storm to make landfall in Spain (Vince)

-Record 26 named storms

-Never before 3 Cat 5 Hurricanes in one year (Katrina, Rita, Wilma)
-New record lowest pressure ever-Wilma's 882mb

-Most costly hurricane ever (Katrina)

-Deadliest storm since Galveston 1900 (Katrina)

After that no one is willing to suggest 2006 will be a calm one.  So let me be the first. 

What's that you say?  After what we all went through last year, how can anyone think we're going to return to even normal levels of activity, much less a calm year?  What about the warmer sea surface temperatures?  What about the lack of an El Nino.  What about the cycle of increased hurricane activity we are now clearly in? 

All good questions.  But remember, we are dealing with the weather.  Those meteorological factors are simply akin to buying more tickets in the hurricane lottery.  They increase your odds of a hit.  They don't guarantee you'll "win."

Just because there are improved conditions for hurricane formation doesn't guarantee they'll form.  Just because water temperatures are warmer, or there is reduced wind shear doesn't guarantee that any storms that do form will strengthen.  And there is never any guarantee that even if there are 20 hurricanes, that any of them will hit the US mainland.

We've had two extraordinary years in a row (2004 with 4 hurricanes hitting Florida and 2005 with the above records).  Maybe this year we get lucky.  

That's my story and I'm sticking to it...at least until that first Cat 5 starts bearing down on Miami. 

Previous Posts:

What Good Are the Predictions?

After last year, most people surely do belive this could be another bad one.  But why should we trust these long range forecasts?  Should we even care?   Remember last year's Colorado State prediction?  11 named storms, 6 hurricanes, 3 intense ones.  What happened?  23 storms, 15 hurricanes, 7 intense, including the most powerful (Wilma, pressure: 882mb) ever recorded.  It was also the first year there were ever three category 5 storms.  If they're so smart how come they got it so wrong?

As noted above, hurricane forecasting, like all weather forecasting, is a fairly inexact science this far out.  It's like reading the old Farmer's Almanac....well, maybe a little more scientific.  Still there IS a good chance this could be an above average year?   Why? 

Warming of The Part of the Globe Where Hurricanes Form and Could Hit

I'm not saying it's global warming, just pointing out that NOAA has already declared that temperatures are and should continue to be much warmer in the area where huricanes form.  And there continue to be abnormally high temperatures along parts of the northeast US Coast.  Check out NOAA's latest sea surface temperature maps here.   If you click on it you can see, the red area off New York indicates temperatures a full five degrees above normal.  That's a lot.  We pointed this out several months ago in discussing the possibility that New York and other parts of the northeast could be in jeopardy.   You can still read our thoughts below.

Preparation and Protection

I talked to Ed Liddy, the CEO of Allstate Insurance at Allstate Headquarters in Northbrook, Illinois.  Liddy has taken some heat for refusing to pay homeowners claims for hurricane damage caused by flooding (which is typically not covered).  He's also been under fire for refusing to renew some policies in hurricane prone areas including the northeast (again, more on this below).  Liddy, who has managed to keep Allstate profitable despite two nasty hurricane years in a row rightly points out that homeowners have sued over failure to recover flood damages before and lost every time.  He told me that to make flooding a part of hurricane coverage would drive premiums so high, nobody would be able to afford them. 

Perhaps Liddy is right.  If we are going to see the kind of years we have the past two, it will blow the insurance companies actuarial tables to hell.  Liddy told me all the money Allstate made in Florida in the years preceding Andrew (the company is 75  years old this year) was wiped out by claims from that one Cat 5 storm in 1992.  Allstate, like other insurers has been hiking rates on all policyholders (mine have gone up in the past few years, I bet yours have too).  We're all paying for the damage caused by hurricanes.   

Bottom Line

I think it is highly likely that the 2006 will bring nothing like the intensity and numbers we had in 2005.  It is possible it will even be a fairly quiet year in terms of US strikes.  Just because conditions are more favorable for hurricanes doesn't mean more will form or that they will be more intense or that they will make it to the US or even hit a highly populated or vulnerable area.  Though the forecasters at Colorado State, AccuWeather and the Hurricane Center don't like this analogy, it is all a bit like the lottery.  You can increase your chances of hitting by buying hundreds of tickets and still not get a hit.  Or you can buy just one ticket and hit it on the money.  Just because the atmostpheric odds of a rough season are above average doesn't mean that's what we'll get.  Then again, we could hit the Powerball....again.   

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Previous HurricaneNow Posts:

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Eyes Focus on Northeast

The seers at AccuWeather are getting a good bit of attention from the mainstream media for their "Northeast is staring down the barrel of a gun" forecast about the coming hurricane season.  We posted our concerns here last month on the very same topic.  See Jeff Flock's thoughts below. 

AccuWeather points out that based on weather patterns, warm sea surface temperatures and good old fashioned odds, that the northeast is overdue for a big one.  And they suggest the pattern is reminiscent of that before the 1938 hurricane (in the days before they got names) that hit Providence, Rhode Island and killed 600+ people. 

Allstate Looks Prescient

Makes news that Allstate is refusing to renew some homeowners policies in the New York City area because of fears of a hurricane strike look pretty smart.   The insurer already lost billions this year and is fearful about its exposure. 

Read on for what our Jeff Flock has to say about possible catastrophe in the most concentrated population center in the US. 

 

Let's Not Even Think About It....

If indeed we are moving into a cycle of more and more intense hurricane activity Allstate, which lost more than $3 billion thanks to Katrina and Rita and the rest in 2005, is concerned it is overexposed around New York City.   Take a look at the above link for the business details.  But think for a moment about the reality of a hit on a place like New York City. 

The fact is most hurricanes hit fairly sparsely populated areas along the coast because there are few big cities along the coast and more relatively wide open spaces.  It's like tornadoes and big cities.  Why do tornadoes not usually hit big cities?  It's not because they can't.  It's because big cities occupy fairly little real estate.  The geographical odds of a big city hit are smaller.  Same with hurricanes. 

But as we saw this past year, occasionally someone hits the hurricane lottery.  Charleston and hurricane Hugo in 1989 and New Orleans with Katrina are the two big "winners" in recent memory. 

If the New York City area ever got hit with a Cat 3 hurricane however, it would be more akin to winning the Powerball (to perhaps take the lottery analogy one step too far).  Suffice it to say if the impact was devastating to the relatively huge population center that was New Orleans, a hit on the most populous spot on the US map would raise that devastation level to unheard of levels. 

True, no US city has the kind of below-sea-level, protected by levees, jeopardy of a New Orleans.  But there are other factors peculiar to New York  (extensive underground infrastructure like subways and power) not the least of which is the huge amount of population at risk.  If it was tough evacuating a million people from New Orleans imagine what it would be like to get 7 million out of New York.  Yes New York does not have the same exposure as the Gulf coast or Florida or even the Carolinas.  But storms of devastating intensity have struck as far north as New England.  That none have hit New York City yet doesn't mean it can't happen.   

Let's not even think about it.  Or maybe we should. 

A Storm By Any Other Name...

The NHC says Zeta was the tropical storm that lastest longer into the new year than any in history, outlasting 1954's Alice.  It is tied with Alice for the honor of latest developing tropical storm.  It reminds us that 1954 was an unusual year too in that it was the only year in history where there were two tropical storms (both eventually became hurricanes) of the same name.  The lucky name was Alice.  Here's what happened:

When the last storm of 1954 formed, it first appeared that it had in fact come together after midnight on December 31st, making it the first storm of 1955.  Thus it got the name Alice, since back then hurricane names were simply recycled every year. Upon later reflection it turned out to have formed on the 31st of December which would have made it Irene since the names Alice thru Hazel had already been used and Irene was the next in line.  However, since the storm had already been named Alice, the name stuck. 

Now of course hurricanes are named with annual lists of 21 names which recycle every 6 years.  And if we run out of names, which never happened before this year, storms get letters from the Greek alphabet (Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon, Zeta....Eta would have been next).

1954 also brought a Cat 2 hurricane to Long Island (Carol), and a Cat 1 to Cape Cod and Maine.  But as weird as that all was, the hurricane headline of 1954 was a storm named Hazel, which hit North Carolina as a Cat 4.  And as for what happened to the second Alice?  The tropical storm turned into a Cat 1 hurricane and did about a hundred thousand dollars damage to the Lesser Antilles. It is also the only hurricane to span two calendar years. 

The current Zeta doesn't figure to make it to hurricane strength.  Though it has a chance of being a two year tropical storm.

Jeff

May Not See The Likes of 2005 Again

Who is to say if the 2005 season was the tip of an iceberg of increased hurricane activity or whether it is history we won't see the likes of again.  All we know is this: in the context of history as we know it today, 2005 was an amazing year.  The predictions were right.  The launch of HurricaneNow was prescient.  It was in some ways the perfect year to execute the vision of providing non-stop live coveragefrom the scene of landfalling US hurricanes. 

As we envisioned at the start of the season, advances in technology along with the forecast of extraordinary storm activity could cause a "perfect storm" of possibilities for live, uninterupted, from-the-ground reporting.  The perfect storm came...and kept coming.   Read on for more on the season.   We've left many of our posts in chronological order below so you can review and remember.   You can also visit our Video Control Room to watch some of our coverage as it unfolded live to our subscribers. 

Will next year be as extraordinary?  Will it be worse?  Or maybe just a normal season?  HurricaneNow Correspondent Jeff Flock takes a look at the first look at 2006.

Colorado State 2006 Hurricane Predictions

I don't know if Dr. William Gray and his Colorado State team have ever made their annual December next year hurricane forecast while a live hurricane was still churning.  This year they did.  And another first, the leadership of the team has changed.  Dr. Gray, with more staying power than hurricane Epsilon, has after 22 years (1984) of forecasting decided to turn over leadership of the annual predictions to his partner Phil Klotzbach.  Gray will focus more on his work on his work on global warming.  Meantime here is the first of the forecasts headed by Mr. Klotzbach. 

Colorado State 2006 Hurricane Predictions

Named Storms---------17

Hurricanes --------------9

Intense Hurricanes----5

These are the highest predicted totals for hurricane activity in their December forecasting history.  They are also short of what we experienced in 2005.   

Prediction Accuracy

How accurate are the erstwhile Bill Gray forecasts?  Usually about the best.  Gray made an incredibly prescient forecast before the 2004 season that Florida was likely to experience a very difficult year.   And he forecast an unusually active season this year, though the magnitude was not forseen.  Here is what was predicted by Gray and company in December of 2004 about the 2005 season and what actually happened. 

2005 Forecast              Predicted                Actual

Named Storms--------------11---------------------23

Hurricanes---------------------6---------------------15

Intense Hurricanes----------3-----------------------7

No one foresaw what an incredible year this was.  No one would want to. 

The Most Incredible Year On Record

I've covered 20 consecutive hurricane seasons.  My first big hurricane was Gilbert which I always remember was in 1988 because it had the lowest pressure ever recorded in the Atlantic Basin, 888mb.  I went through Hugo in 1989 and Andrew in 1992 (when that was posthumously upgraded to a Cat 5 none of us doubted we'd been through the worst).  I experienced other oddities: Fran and Bertha which hit almost the same North Carolina coastal spot in 1996, 1990: which didn't see a single landfalling US storm, the incredible delayed-flooding of 1999's Floyd and last year's Charley-Frances-Jeanne-Ivan onslaught on Florida. 

But if you total up all the storms and the records and the unexpected of the past two decades you would not equal what happened in 2005. 

Some of the Numbers

-Record-breaking 7 storms in June/July

-A record 7 major Cat 3 or better hurricanes

-First ever storm to make landfall in Spain (Vince)

-Record 26 named storms (and counting with Epsilon still spinning)

-Never before 3 Cat 5 Hurricanes in one year (Katrina, Rtia, Wilma)
-New record lowest pressure ever-Wilma's 882mb

-Most costly ($100 billion est.) hurricane ever

-Deadliest storm since Galveston 1900 (1000+dead)

The Bottom Line

 The numbers however don't do justice to the top hurricane headline of 2005: Katrina.  For that you had to be there for the strike and levee breaks and the flooding and the rescues and the non-rescues and the aftermath.  Thanks to hundreds of journalists, including us here at HurricaneNow, you were there watching hurricane horror unfold in a more complete and dramatic and meaningful way than any hurricane in history.   And the funny thing is the season officially ended November 30th.  As I have written in this space too many times: "What A Year."

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Post Season Storms

How unusual is a December tropical storm?  Unusual but not unheard of.  It was just two years ago that Tropical Storms Peter and Odette formed in December.  They didn't make it to hurricane strength.  The other interesting thing about the 2003 season is that it featured the first tropical storm to form in April.  That was Ana.  

Post Season Hurricanes

It is rarer to have a storm to actually become a hurricane in the last month of the season.  The National Hurricane Center says that dating back to 1851, Epsilon is only the fifth such hurricane.  To quote the NHC: "OTHER DECEMBER HURRICANES ARE... UNNAMED 1887... UNNAMED 1925... ALICE #2 IN 1954... AND LILI 1984. EPSILON IS ALSO ONLY THE SIXTH HURRICANE TO EVER OCCUR DURING DECEMBER... INCLUDING UNNAMED 1887... UNNAMED 1925... ALICE #2 IN 1954... LILI 1984... AND NICOLE 1998."

What's In A Name?

If you've checked the National Hurricane Center's website for where we now stand on the list of hurricane names, you'll know that we've reached "...and so on." It certainly would have been hard to believe we'd be past four names into the fallback Greek alphabet. Next up after Epsilon, we have Zeta, Eta and Theta.

Looking Ahead:

The 2005 hurricane season officially ended November 30, but the anguish and suffering of those who live in the hurricane zone and beyond will linger for a long time after. What did emergency management officials learn, and how will they prepare for hurricanes next year, and beyond? What will coastal residents do differently in the future? What role will media play in informing the public about the impact of hurricanes? These are some of the questions we will try to answer in the months leading up to the 2006 hurricane season. The season may be ending, but HurricaneNow will continue to cover the story, and we hope you’ll be here with us.

Riding With Us

We started this website earlier this year with a sense, along with guidance from Dr. William Gray, that 2005 would be an incredible year for hurricanes. Our plan was to take you along for the ride, as we tracked and intercepted every hurricane that made landfall in the US. In the next few weeks, we will share some of the stories and new video from our travels. Since our goal has been to make this an interactive experience, we want to include your stories too. You can write to us at HNblog@aol.com. We look forward to hearing from you.

Check Our Video Control Room

We have used our down time to post some new Wilma videos to the control room. Take a look at some of the fury of the storm in our latest videos.  These are from our live streams which, thanks to our partners at Sprint, stayed up through all the nasty women of 2005...Wilma, Rita and Katrina.  The latest videos include a lengthy report from Wilma's eye. 

Looking Back

Given the year, it's more fun than usual to take a look back at what we've had to say at various points.  Here's a few words we had to say at the outset of the season, explaining why we decided to launch HurricaneNow this year.  It makes us sound pretty smart.  We'll share another one that wasn't so prescient shortly as well as a fresh look at what remains the headline of the season: Hurricane Katrina.    What follows first appeared here July 6, 2005. 

Why Now?

              Our HurricaneNow team has always been deeply interested in hurricanes.  We always saw the need for more complete, compelling and continuous hurricane coverage than available on TV or the web.  But the reason we launched HurricaneNow this year was because more and more people seem to be sharing our passion…whether they want to or not. 

              Last year’s four land falling hurricanes really increased people’s sensitivity to storms, particularly in Florida which had less than its share for a long time. 

              Also the experts seemed to be in agreement that this year was going to be another extraordinary hurricane year.  Dr. Bill Gray’s forecast is for 15 named storms, 8 hurricanes, 4 of them intense storms. 

              So far the season has more than lived up to advanced billing with the busiest early storm season in history.  Never before have there been four named storms this early.

              The other reason we’ve begun the HurricaneNow enterprise this year is the explosion in technology that allows live reporting through multiple new channels never available before. 

              In the early black and white TV days of hurricane reporting, the likes of Dan Rather and the rest were doing something big just to be able to broadcast from a TV studio during a storm.  Microwave transmitters made it possible for local TV stations to report live from the field.  And satellite uplink trucks allowed both local stations and TV networks to beam their pictures from almost anywhere a storm was hitting.

              But those million dollar “sat trucks” even today have to lower their transmitting “dishes” in the worst of storms because they tend to act like a big sail in the wind and are prone to being damaged or torn off.

              Now with the internet and increased ability to transmit video and audio we can use high speed connections and wireless air cards from Sprint and other providers to “go live” through the worst of it.  Small dish, satellite videophones also give us another option to transmit.

              Both mother nature and father technology are combining this year to provide an opportunity for some incredible hurricane coverage.  We hope you’ll watch it right here on HurricaneNow. 

             

Thanks For Watching

Our thanks to all of you who did watch what was truly an extraordinary hurricane season unfold live here on HurricaneNow.  We streamed live coverage of all landfalling US hurricanes here, keeping our signal up (thanks to that new technology we talked about) through even the worst of Katrina, Rita and Wilma.   

Beta Was 13th Hurricane, 23rd Named Storm

The hurricane hit the coast of Nicaragua hard, making land fall near La Barra, Nicaragua at 7am EST Sunday morning.  It came it at Cat 2 with 105 mph winds.  Heavy rains spread inland. 

Clarification

We've seen some references to Beta being the 26th named storm of the 2005 season.  Not yet.  We're only at 23.  That's 21 names from the US alphabet (no Q,U,X,Y, or Z) and two from the Greek.  The 23 is already a record, topping the 21 in 1933.  And while we're clarifying we should point out that 1933 was 20 years before they started assigning names so technically the 21 were just storms in 1933.

 

 

How About November Storms?

Remember Michelle, Lenny?

Not to be an "I told you so," but if you remeber my thoughts in the early part of last month (see below), it's not all that crazy for October to spawn some nasty storms.  And so it was that we got Wilma, the most intense storm ever in the Atlantic Basin.  Now that we're in November, you might wonder about what history this month has held. 

There have only been six major hurricanes in the month of November since 1900.  The last was Hurricane Michelle which got up to 135 mph winds on November 3rd, 2001.  Before that, Lenny in 1999 got up to Cat 4 intensity with 150 mph winds and took an odd track over the Virgin Islands. 

As for hurricanes that made it to US land in November, there have only been four since 1900.  And they were all Cat 1 storms that hit Florida.  Normally November is a sleepy last month of hurricane season.  But given what has transpired so far in 2005, I don't think there are any safe bets. 

And one more point: since we have already exhausted Alpha and Beta and my knowledge of the Greek alphabet extended only to Delta and Gamma, I looked up the rest.  Needless to say, if we get to Epsilon, Zeta, Eta, Theta and Iota, we'll be in some deep stuff. 

Wilma Wrap

HurricaneNow Team Streams Live From Wilma Eye

In a year of unique huricane presentations and land falls, this is another for the books...or perhaps electronic records.  Yes, it was a huge eye but we were fairly close to the center of it just as it came ashore on the west coast.  And our continuous live streaming coverage stayed up for 13 straight hours.  Sunday night we made the determination to re-locate south to Marco Island.  That was the southernmost point we felt we could access safely.   And sure enough we caught between half an hour and 45 minutes of the eye of hurricane Wilma.  We asked on a couple occasions for you to be tolerant of the conditions as the worst of it hit.  This was a Category 3 storm and we experienced two eyewalls.  We had some breakup but it kept on going.  Thanks to all our subscribers who got quite a ride Sunday night into Monday. 

October Storms Can Be Nasty 

Hurricane Mitch

In 1998 Mitch formed as tropical depression #13 on October 22nd.  By the 26th it was packing winds of 180 mph and a pressure of 905 mb which was, at the time, the fourth most intense storm ever in the Atlantic basin.  More than 10-thousand people were killed by Mitch in Honduras and Guatemala. 

Irene Packed Punch

I've covered several October storms, including Irene in 1999 (not to be confused with this year's Irene).  It made landfall over the Keys on the 15th, crossed Florida moving east and then brushed the Carolinas.  This one was interesting in that after it came off the east coast of Florida it also entered a "rapid intensification" phase like we've seen with several storms this year...now including Wilma.   

Lili Made Cat 4

Lili is another powerful memory.  It was the first hurricane to make US land fall since Irene.  Lili struck western Cuba as a Cat 2 storm on the first of October of 2002.   I was awaiting the storm at its second landfall point in Morgan City, Louisiana on October 3rd as the storm intensified to Cat 4 strength.  Along the low-lying Louisiana bayou it would have been a Katrina-like surge that would have likely swept us away if the storm hadn't begun to weaken.  As it turned out Lili lost intensity as rapidly as it gained it and was only a Cat 1 when it hit at Intracoastal City, Louisiana.  Lili killed 13 in total. 

Unlike 1999's Irene, the name Lili was retired after that 2002 storm and replaced by "Laura" which will next come around in 2008.  It's interesting to note that in October of 2002 we'd only made it to the "L" storm.  This year we're on the verge of hitting "Alpha" in the Greek alphabet. 

2005 Is The Topper

What A Year...

The first hurricane I ever covered was the most powerful storm in the Atlantic Basin, Gilbert in 1988.  I was there for Hugo in 1989 and Andrew in 1992, and for last year's onslaught on Florida.  But I have to say 2005 is already the most incredible hurricane year I have been a part of, both from a quantity and intensity standpoint as well as a human one.   

First, The Latest Numbers

Here’s where we are so far: 21 named storms, now including Wilma, before we start hitting the Greek alphabet and the likes of Alpha, Beta and Gamma.  This ties the record for most named storms at 21 with the 1933 season, which was back before they were giving them names.

There have been eleven hurricanes so far.  Five of them have been major.  For those counting at home:

Cat 1 -  5

Cat 2  - 1

Cat 3  - 1

Cat 4  - 2

Cat 5  - 2

And this year has shaken up the lists of the deadliest, costliest and most intense storms.   

History's Deadliest Hurricanes

The current death toll from hurricane Katrina is 1193, far less than first feared but ranking at #3 on the all-time list.  The 1900 Galveston storm remains the most deadly, between 6-8 thousand dead.  The 1928 Lake Okeechobee, Florida hurricane killed 1,836.  And the toll from the Florida Keys storm of 1919 was 600-900 with most lost on ships at sea. 

Costliest...

Inflation adjusted, Katrina is almost sure to top Andrew which did $26.5 bil in 1992 dollars.  That’s more than $40 bil. in today’s dollars.  Damage estimates have topped $70 bil. for Katrina.   Numbers 3 and 4 on this list last year’s Charley ($15bil.) and Ivan ($14.2bil. )

Most Powerful...

There are two ways to look at it: most intense at landfall or most intense at any time over the life of the storm.  Both lists were changed this year by two different storms. 

1988’s Gilbert still has the all-time lowest barometric pressure in the Atlantic Basin: 888.  The 1935 Labor Day hurricane is second at 892.  And 2005’s Rita got to 898 in the Gulf before weakening ahead of landfall, meaning that Katrina wasn't even the most intense storm of the 2005 season. 

As for most intense on landfall: The 1935 Labor Day storm was at 892 when it first struck the Florida Keys.  1969’s Camille was at 909 at landfall on the Gulf Coast.  And Katrina topped 1992’s Andrew, 917 to 922 when it made landfall on the Louisiana bayou.

Personal Perspective

I wasn't in Charleston proper for Hugo's landfall so I had never before this season been in an "urban hurricane."  I did a lot of thinking before and after Katrina about whether I should have been in New Orleans.  I knew with enough time that the worst would be to the east of us in Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian and the Mississippi coast.  But I determined that if a Cat 4 hurricane was going to hit downtown New Orleans I needed to be there.  I'm glad I was.  To see what Cat 4 winds do in the canyon of skyscrapers, to watch sheets of plate glass blow out of huge windows, watch huge buildings come apart, as well as see the aftermath of the levee breaks was an experience that will be difficult to repeat.   As much as there is worry about another hurricane hitting a major metropolitan area, the fact is there aren't many places like New Orleans on the coast so the chances are remote.  Of course if you roll the dice long enough you'll eventually hit.  But the odds are, even with increased activity, that this is the likes of which we won't see again soon.   

For that to be followed in the same year by as intense a storm as Rita is truly extraordinary.  It's a little like a pitcher facing Babe Ruth and then Lou Gehrig.  Fortunately Rita weakened before landfall in a way Katrina hadn't but were it not for Katrina, Rita would have been the story of the season.  And speaking of the story of the season, the final chapter has not yet been written. 

HurricaneNow Ground-breaking Coverage

What I am most proud of from the standpoint of coverage is that for the two biggest storms in this year's hurricane "Murderers Row" our HurricaneNow live streaming coverage was continuous.  From a parking garage in downtown New Orleans for Katrina to a hotel in Beaumont, Texas for Rita, we provided non-stop reporting and pictures that you couldn't get anywhere else.  When I was at CNN and we provided live, non-stop coverage of hurricane Bertha in 1996 I said "For a hurricane reporter it doesn't get any better than this."  At the time the winds in that Cat 2 storm were about the limit you could keep a satellite dish up and transmitting.  Well, it does get better.  Now with new multiple path transmission technology we are able to bring live, continuous pictures from virtually any storm.  As breakthroughs continue to be made even higher quality pictures will soon be possible.  That combined with our experience at tracking storms and finding the right venues to report from will lead to some incredible coverage in the future.  Who knows, there may be even more opportunity to push the envelope before 2005 is done.

Thanks for sharing the ride with us.

Jeff

Also:

Our Live Stream Stayed Up

It is worth noting that all of the broadcast television stations in Beaumont, Texas shut down as hurricane Rita was making landfall. Even the TV networks brought down their transmission dishes and took cover as the eye and eyewall of the storm was pounding their positions along the coast. But, as we promised, our live reporting was non-stop before, during and after Rita made land fall. Our multiple transmission technologies allowed HurricaneNow correspondent Jeff Flock and team in Beaumont to begin streaming at 9PM CDT and to continue until 4:30AM. At several points Flock took shelter as winds gusted to 112 mph and the roof began coming off his hotel. But he and producer Rob Hess remained outside and continued to report until the worst was over. The HurricaneNow team also kept their live stream up throughout the strike of hurricane Katrina in New Orleans

 

Hurricane Rita...

More Dead From Evacuation Than Storm

If you count those who died in the flight from Houston, including those bus explosion victims, there were far more killed in the pre-storm escape than from the actual storm.  So was the evacuation a failure?  And if so how do we fix the latest mistake of hurricane preparedness and planning?

Katrina Storm Disaster Avoidable-Rita Evacuation Disaster Maybe Not

One thing we have learned from Katrina versus Rita is that with more immediate response, the kind of disaster we saw in New Orleans after the hurricane is avoidable.  People shouldn't have been left in the Superdome or Convention Center without provisions or without being taken out on what was a driveable route.  People could have been rescued from roofs sooner.  The Rita response was dramatically better than Katrina.  But what can be done to avoid the gridlock on the Houston evacuation routes that caused the most chaos and loss of life before during or after hurricane Rita? 

The Truth Is: Not Much  

Yes, pre-positioning gas tanker trucks along the expressways to refill gas stations may have helped some.  But tankers don't carry that much fuel.  They rely on going back and forth between terminals and stations (which can only refill about 1500 cars on average) to make deliveries.  And the roads were gridlocked.  People burned so much gas because they were stuck in traffic.  If you try and move two or three million people out of a place like Houston over the course of a day or two, there is no way for the roads there or in New Orleans or any other significant population center not to clog.  The expressways just weren't built to have all the people who live there driving at the same time. 

What About Staggered Evacuation?

Great in principle.  But just try getting people to go along with it.  You see what happened when Houston mayor Bill White called for a staggered re-entry.  Everybody showed up at once.  And with a re-entry you could theoretically make it mandatory and turn people away who weren't supposed to be returning.  You can't very well turn back people trying to escape a storm.  And a staggered evacuation presumes you're going to know exactly where a storm will hit three days in advance.  The forecast track of Rita went from Matagorda Bay to Lake Jackson to Galveston to Beaumont with the eventual landfall coming in Louisiana.  And people will simply not evacuate as a precaution three days in advance.  They've had too many false alarms. 

We Built It-We Have To Live With It

The reality is that there are some big cities built in the potential path of major hurricanes.  Most times they don't get hit.  But this year it was New Orleans and Houston (close enough).  Next it could be Miami or the huge population centers to the north of Miami or Tampa or St. Petersburg, Savannah, Charleston, even Orlando.  Each city is different but all present evacuation problems. Should we build more and bigger roads that would only be used once every decade for a hurricane evacuation?  If you want to build huge cities on or near the coasts where hurricanes hit, there is no way to forestall every possible loss of life.  We can do better in making sure people who want to get out have a way.  We can do better making sure they have gas.  We can respond more quickly to those in need after the storm.  But...

We Can Only Do So Much

Where there are millions of people on a coast the fact is there will be traffic problems getting out of town.  Some will run out of gas on the way.  Some won't have a way out and get left behind.  Some will chose to stay and need to be rescued from a rooftop or swimming in a street.  As both Katrina and Rita proved, we can do better.  But we can't do it all.