- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 29, 2005

MIAMI (AP) — The busiest, costliest Atlantic hurricane season on record officially ends today, with hundreds of thousands of Americans still dealing with the devastation of Katrina, Rita and Wilma.

Despite the end of the June 1-to-Nov. 30 season, hurricanes could still form over the next few months. In fact, a tropical storm took shape in the Atlantic yesterday, though no hurricane has been known to hit the United States between December and May.

Relief may not last very long: Forecasters say 2006 could be another brutal year, because the Atlantic is in a period of frenzied hurricane activity that began in 1995 and could last another decade.

Government hurricane specialists say a natural cycle of higher sea temperatures, lower wind shear and other factors are causing mores storms. Some scientists blame global warming.

The 2005 season obliterated many long-standing records:

In 154 years of record-keeping, this year had the most named storms (26), the most hurricanes (13), the highest number of major hurricanes hitting the U.S. (4), and the most top-scale Category 5 hurricanes (3).

Katrina was the deadliest U.S. hurricane since 1928 (more than 1,300 dead) and replaced 1992’s Andrew as the most expensive ($34.4 billion in insured losses).

Total insured losses from hurricanes this year were put at $47.2 billion, above the previous record of $22.9 billion set last year when four hurricanes also hit the U.S., according to risk-analysis firm ISO.

Wilma was briefly the most intense Atlantic hurricane on record in terms of minimum central pressure (882 millibars). It also was the fastest-strengthening storm on record — its top sustained winds increased 105 mph in 24 hours in the Caribbean.

Forecasters exhausted their list of 21 proper names and had to use the Greek alphabet to name storms for the first time.

The worst damage was inflicted by Katrina. Miles of coastal Mississippi towns were smashed. Eighty percent of New Orleans was under water after its levees broke. The world saw families stranded on roofs and hungry and thirsty refugees stuck in the Superdome and Convention Center. Bodies lay on streets for days or floated in the fetid floodwaters. Hundreds of thousands of people have yet to return to their homes — or have no homes to return to.

So far, Congress has approved $62 billion in mostly short-term relief aid, and estimates put the cost of rebuilding at up to $200 billion.

The Bush administration was criticized for its slow response to Katrina. Michael D. Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, lost his job, and the president’s approval ratings sank.

The president has ordered the Homeland Security Department to review disaster plans for every major metropolitan area. FEMA is also pledging to manage the flow of personnel and supplies better.

“We have to make it a much more nimble, more adaptable organization. … We’ve got good people in place to make it happen,” said R. David Paulison, FEMA’s acting director. He added: “As long as I’m here, I can tell you, we will not have another Superdome.”

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