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Record-setting hurricane season nears end

November 29, 2008|Associated Press

The 2008 Atlantic hurricane season, which ends Sunday, seemed to strike the United States and Cuba as if on redial, setting at least five weather records for persistence and repeatedly striking the same areas.

"It was pretty relentless in a large number of big strikes," said Georgia Institute of Technology atmospheric sciences professor Judith Curry. "We just didn't have the huge monster where a lot of people lost their lives, but we had a lot of damage -- a lot of damage."

Data on deaths and damage are still being calculated, but the insurance industry recorded at least $10.6 billion in losses this hurricane season. That includes $8.1 billion in insured damage from Hurricane Ike, which ranked as the seventh most expensive catastrophe in U.S. history, according to Mike Barry of the Insurance Information Institute in New York.

Three records showed the season's relentlessness. Six consecutive named storms -- Dolly, Edouard, Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike -- struck the U.S. mainland, a first in recorded history. It's also the first time a major hurricane, with winds of at least 111 mph, formed in five consecutive months, July through November. And Bertha spun for 17 days, making it the longest-lived July storm.

Two records involve storms hitting the same places repeatedly. Rain-heavy Fay was the only storm to hit the same state -- Florida -- four times, leaving heavy flood damage in its wake. A record three major hurricanes smacked Cuba: Gustav, Ike and Paloma.

This year wasn't the busiest; it merely tied for the fourth most named storms, with 16. The 2005 season had 28 tropical storms and hurricanes.

The 2008 season was busy largely because of the natural cycles of high and low storm activity that last anywhere from 25 to 40 years.

"This one started in 1995. Based on the historical record, we're right in the middle of an active era," said Gerry Bell, the lead hurricane forecaster at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center.

An average season has 11 named storms, six of which become hurricanes. This year there were eight hurricanes, of which five -- Bertha, Gustav, Ike, Omar and Paloma -- became major hurricanes.

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