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Gustav, Ike Blew Through 'Destructive' 2008 Hurricane Season

The 2008 hurricane season "was one of the most destructive years on record from a damage perspective," according to forecaster Phil Klotzbach of the Colorado State University (CSU) hurricane team.

In a seasonal verification report issued Wednesday, Klotzbach said the CSU team accurately predicted the year's well above-average hurricane season, which produced a total of 16 named storms, including eight hurricanes, five of them intense (Category Three or greater). In April and again in June the CSU team called for 15 named storms, eight hurricanes and four major hurricanes (see NGI, June 9; April 10). By August the forecasters had upgraded their prediction to 17 named storms, nine hurricanes and five major hurricanes (see NGI, Aug. 11). Although no major hurricanes made landfall in the United States, both Hurricane Gustav and Hurricane Ike made landfall at just below major hurricane status.

"We consider our April and June forecasts to have been especially successful," said Klotzbach. "We believed that given the extremely active early season and the climate parameters observed up to August that the remainder of the season was likely to be slightly more active than it was. The rest of the season had activity at above-average levels, with both Gustav and Ike both causing tremendous amounts of devastation in the United States and in the Caribbean."

The Atlantic has seen a large increase in major hurricanes -- almost four a year since 1995 after averaging just 1.5 a year between 1907-1994 -- due primarily to natural multi-decadal variability in the strength of the Atlantic thermohaline circulation and a concomitant increase in tropical Atlantic sea surface temperatures, Klotzbach said. The changes are not directly related to global sea surface temperature increases or atmospheric CO2 concentrations, he said.

None of the 16 named storms developed into a Category Five hurricane in 2008, only the second time since 2002 the season failed to produce a Category Five. Still, three hurricanes made landfall along the U.S. Gulf Coast, the second highest total since 1985, and Ike was among the most damaging hurricanes in U.S. history.

Tropical Storm Bertha meandered through much of the Atlantic between July 3 and July 20, threatening Bermuda and twice reaching hurricane status, but it never threatened gas or oil interests. Also in July Dolly, the season's second hurricane, brought heavy rain and wind speeds of more than 100 mph when it made landfall at South Padre Island near Brownsville, TX.

Hurricane Gustav slammed ashore near Cocodrie, LA, on Sept. 2 (see NGI, Sept. 8). Hurricane Hanna came ashore days later near the North Carolina/South Carolina border and drenched much of the East Coast. Hurricane Ike slammed into the Texas coast at Galveston as a Category Two hurricane Sept. 13, bringing with it torrential rain, a storm surge in excess of 20 feet and maximum sustained winds of 110 mph (see NGI, Sept. 22). Hurricane force winds were reported across the Ohio Valley as Ike moved north, eventually dissipating as it moved into southeastern Canada.

More than two months after Gustav and Ike, approximately 24.4% of the natural gas production and 16.3% of the oil production in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) remains shut-in, the Minerals Management Service (MMS) said Wednesday. GOM natural gas production prior to the hurricanes was estimated to be 7 Bcf/d. Since then production from the Independence Hub has increased and current production from the GOM is estimated at 7.4 Bcf/d, MMS said.

In late September Hurricane Kyle passed to the east of Bermuda and headed north, losing its tropical characteristics as it sideswiped southwestern Nova Scotia. A pair of late-season hurricanes, Omar in mid-October and Paloma earlier this month, stayed south and east of the Gulf before heading northeast over the Atlantic.

The Atlantic hurricane season, which began on June 1, does not end until Nov. 30.

The CSU hurricane team will issue its first forecast for the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season on Dec. 10.

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