After a record setting tropical cyclone season in 2005 that finally ended the first week of January 2006, the early prognosis is for another busy tropical summer, but with fewer storms than last year. The 27 named storms (Fig 1) in 2005 broke all the past records for number of systems in a season and represented the first time that letters from the Greek alphabet have ever been used. Of the 27 storms, a record fifteen became hurricanes. Of these, seven strengthened into major hurricanes, a record-tying five became Category 4 hurricanes, while a record three reached Category 5 strength, the highest category for Atlantic hurricanes. Among these Category 5 storms was Hurricane Wilma, the most intense hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic. The last storm, named Zeta was also a rare late December tropical storm that persisted in the eastern Atlantic past the New Year before finally dissipating on January 6th. The impact of the season was widespread with record damages of over $100 billion and at least 1,900 deaths.
Records set in the 2005 season include the totals for:
|* Named storms: 27; previous record: 21 in 1933
* Hurricanes: 15; previous record: 12 in 1969
* Major hurricanes hitting the U.S. : Four (Dennis, Katrina, Rita and Wilma); previous record: Three, most recently in 2004
* Hurricanes of Category 5 intensity (greater than 155 mph): Three (Katrina, Rita and Wilma); previous record: Two in 1960 and 1961
While storms of this nature would normally be associated with long lived Cape Verde type systems, interestingly there were very few in the 2005 season. Instead storms tended to spin up in close proximity to the U.S. mainland and then rapidly intensified over near prefect warm water and upper atmospheric conditions. This in turn allowed many more landfalls of much greater intensity than ever seen before.
The Gulf Coast and Florida again saw the most direct hits with several major systems including Dennis, Katrina, Rita, and Wilma doing catastrophic amounts of damage across that region. Fortunately locations along the East Coast were spared from the majority of the tropical activity with minimal Hurricane Ophelia affecting eastern North Carolina in mid September.
2005 was also much less active than 2004 across the Blacksburg County Warning Area with only a few remnant systems affecting the area. However rain bands associated with the low pressure system that was formerly Cindy caused several tornadoes across Yadkin County, North Carolina as well as an isolated tornado in Patrick County, Virginia. These were mainly rather short lived F0 to F1 tornadoes that produced damage to roofs, barns and many trees especially in Lone Hickory and East Bend in Yadkin County. Remnant moisture associated with once mighty Hurricane Katrina grazed the region late in August as the system passed well to the west. Rainfall of 1 to 3 inches was seen along and west of the Blue Ridge with some of the residual bands but did not lead to any flooding problems. The heaviest rainfall actually occurred with a late season hybrid type system, formerly Tammy, which on average dumped 4 to 8 inches of much needed rain along the Blue Ridge in early October.
Looking ahead to the upcoming 2006 hurricane season, preliminary forecasts from Dr. William Gray (Colorado State University), calls for 17 named storms, 9 of which should reach hurricane strength, with 5 being intense hurricanes of Category 3 or higher. This compares to an average of 10 named systems, including 9 hurricanes and 2 majors. However the probability of a major U.S. hurricane landfall is forecast to be more than 50 percent above the long-period average (1950-2000). The official start of hurricane season in the Atlantic is June 1 st and runs until the end of November.
The list of tropical storm names for 2006 includes Alberto, Beryl, Chris, Debby, Ernesto, Florence, Gordon, Helene, Isaac, Joyce, Kirk, Leslie, Michael, Nadine, Oscar, Patty, Rafael, Sandy, Tony, Valerie, and William.
(CLICK IMAGE FOR LARGER VIEW)
Fig 1. Summary of 2005 Tropical cyclone tracks.