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NOAA: 2008 Atlantic Hurricane Season Set Records

The Atlantic Hurricane Season -- which ends every year on Nov. 30 -- in 2008 produced a record number of consecutive storms to strike the United States and was one of the more active seasons in the 64 years since comprehensive record-keeping began, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

A total of 16 named storms formed during the season, including eight hurricanes, five of them intense (Category Three or greater).

Prior to the June 1 start of the 2008 hurricane season, NOAA said there was a 60-70% chance of 12 to 16 named storms, including six to nine hurricanes, two to five of them major hurricanes (see NGI, May 26). In August NOAA forecasters said atmospheric and oceanic conditions across the Atlantic Basin that favored storm development, combined with strong activity seen in the early weeks of the season, had increased the likelihood of an above-normal hurricane season, and they upped their projection to 14 to 18 named storms, including seven to 10 hurricanes, three to six of them major hurricanes (see NGI, Aug. 11). An average season has 11 named storms and six hurricanes, two of them major hurricanes, NOAA said.

"This year's hurricane season continues the current active hurricane era and is the tenth season to produce above-normal activity in the past 14 years," said NOAA hurricane forecaster Gerry Bell.

It was the first season during which six consecutive named storms -- Dolly, Edouard, Fay, Gustav (see NGI, Sept. 8), Hanna and Ike (see NGI, Sept. 22) -- made landfall on the U.S. mainland and a record three major hurricanes (Gustav, Ike and Paloma) struck Cuba, NOAA said. It was also the first Atlantic season to have major hurricanes form in five consecutive months (Bertha in July, Gustav in August, Ike in September, Nomar in October and Paloma in November). Overall, the 2008 season tied as the fourth most active in terms of named storms and major hurricanes, and tied as the fifth most active in terms of hurricanes since 1944.

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. Bertha was the longest-lived July storm on record in the Atlantic Basin, NOAA said. Hurricane Fay is the only storm on record to make landfall four times in Florida and Paloma, the season's final hurricane, reached Category Four status with top winds of 145 mph, making it the second strongest November hurricane on record.

Bell attributed this year's above-normal hurricane season to an ongoing multi-decadal combination of ocean and atmospheric conditions, lingering La Nina effects and warmer tropical Atlantic Ocean temperatures.

The Colorado State University (CSU) hurricane team said in its recent seasonal verification report that the 2008 season "was one of the most destructive years on record from a damage perspective" (see NGI, Nov. 24). 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 and 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, according to the CSU team. The changes are not directly related to global sea surface temperature increases or atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, they said.

None of the 16 named storms developed into a Category Five hurricane in 2008, only the second time since 2002 that the season failed to produce a Category Five, according to the CSU team. 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.

A Minerals Management Service (MMS) report issued Nov. 19 concluded that approximately 24.4% of the natural gas production and 16.3% of the oil production in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) remained shut-in more than two months after Gustav and Ike struck. 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 a final assessment issued on Wednesday, MMS said 60 oil and gas production platforms were destroyed by Gustav and Ike (see related story).

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