"Hurricane Katrina was the most destructive ever to strike the U.S.," topping off a hurricane season that began as the most active on record, and a summer that will go into the record books as the tenth warmest, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said last Thursday. Around the globe temperatures from June 1 through Aug. 31 were the second highest on record.
While Katrina was a Category 1 hurricane crossing Florida Aug. 25 and a Category 4 going ashore in Louisiana Aug. 29, her sustained winds reached 175 mph, or a Category 5 in the Gulf of Mexico. The storm's minimum central pressure dropped as low as 902 millibars (a measure of a hurricane's strength) -- the fourth lowest on record for an Atlantic hurricane. And its hurricane force winds extended 120 miles from its center, a much larger range than Hurricane Camille in 1969, causing more widespread destruction, according to scientists at the NOAA National Climatic Data Center in Ashville, NC.
The associated 20 to 30 foot-plus storm surge with Katrina reached far inland and as far east as Mobile, AL, inundating parts of that city and large parts of Biloxi and Gulfport, MS. NOAA blamed the combination of strong winds, heavy rainfall and the storm surge for the breaks in the earthen levee system that separates New Orleans from surrounding lakes and canals, and the massive flooding of large parts of New Orleans.
The 2005 Atlantic hurricane season started off with four named storms by July 5, and by the end of August there were 12 named storms. Heat was a factor. The warm Gulf waters, which were 2-3 degrees Fahrenheit (1-2 degrees C) above normal by the time Katrina passed through, had been above average most of the summer.
NOAA scientists said the average temperature for the contiguous U.S. for the June-August summer season (based on preliminary data) was 1.2 degrees F (0.7 degrees C) above the 1895-2004 mean. This was the tenth warmest summer on record, with each state experiencing either near average or above average temperatures. Much above-average temperatures stretched from Missouri and Iowa to the Northeast and Mid Atlantic. New Jersey had its warmest summer on record, while New York, Vermont and Massachusetts had their second warmest. Statewide temperatures also were much above average in Florida, Louisiana and Nevada.
The anomalous warmth was not confined to the contiguous U.S. New all-time high summer records were established in Honolulu and the average summer temperature in Alaska was 2.0 degrees F (1.1 degrees C) above average, the third warmest such season on record for the state.
Precipitation was above average for the nation overall but with significant regional variability. Wetter-than-average conditions occurred in much of the Southeast and the central Plains states from Oklahoma to North Dakota and Minnesota. Near-average to drier-than-average conditions occurred throughout the West, except California, which had its twelfth wettest summer on record.
Unusually dry conditions occurred in parts of the interior Pacific Northwest that continue to be affected by a multi-year drought. Moderate-to-extreme drought also stretched across much of the area from the southern Mississippi Valley to the upper Great Lakes with drought disasters declared in Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois and Wisconsin during the summer. At the end of August, moderate-to-extreme drought affected 16% of the U.S.
Dry conditions also contributed to an active western wildfire season. Through the end of August, more than 3.6 million acres had burned in the contiguous U.S. and more than 3.8 million acres in Alaska. The total of 7.4 million acres for the U.S. as a whole is approaching the record of 8.4 million acres, which burned in 2000.
The average global temperature anomaly for combined land and ocean surfaces for the June-August season (based on preliminary data) was 1.1 degrees F (0.6 degrees C) above the 1880-2004 long-term mean. This was the second warmest June-August since 1880 (the beginning of reliable instrumental records). The warmest June-August was in 1998 with an anomaly of 1.2 degrees F (0.7 degrees C) above the mean. Warmer-than-average conditions covered most land areas of the world.
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