Weather Nerd

An above-average hurricane season draws to a close

First of all: Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

The Atlantic hurricane season “officially” ends this weekend, but that climatological milestone means essentially nothing, except that the National Hurricane Center will stop issuing a new Tropical Weather Outlook every six hours; the final “Outlook” will be published at 7:00 PM EST Sunday. But the season has effectively been over since November 9, when the NHC issued the final advisory on Hurricane Paloma.

Dr. Jeff Masters has an excellent wrap-up of the season, which he summarizes as follows:

The hurricane season of 2008 draws to a close on Sunday, but leaves behind an indelible mark in history and in the lives of the millions of people it affected. After two years of relative tranquility, the active hurricane period that began in 1995 returned in full force this year, living up to pre-season predictions. It was a top ten hurricane season when considering the total number of named storms and major hurricanes, and ranked 24th using a better measure of total seasonal activity, the Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE). Hurricane records in the Atlantic go back to 1851. An ACE index of 95-100 is average, so this year’s ACE of 141 puts this season at about 45% more active than average.

Before anyone starts hyperventilating, I’ll say again, as I did after the hyperactive 2005 season and the relatively inactive 2006 and 2007 seasons, that a single hurricane season, by itself, tells us nothing about global warming. Only long-term trends are significant, and a single season — or even a small group of seasons — does not a long-term trend make.

In any case, Dr. Masters does more than cite various meteorological statistics about the 2008 season; he also reminds us of some of the places that saw the most human misery from the storms it spawned. At the top of the list, of course, is Haiti:

Nowhere was the hurricane season of 2008 more terrible than in Haiti. Four storms–Fay, Gustav, Hanna, and Ike–dumped heavy rains on the impoverished nation. The rugged hillsides, stripped bare of 98% of their forest cover thanks to deforestation, let flood waters rampage into large areas of the country. Particularly hard-hit was Gonaives, the fourth largest city. According to, Haiti suffered 793 killed, with 310 missing and another 593 injured. The hurricanes destroyed 22,702 homes and damaged another 84,625. About 800,000 people were affected–8% of Haiti’s total population. The flood wiped out much of Haiti’s crops, and aid workers are concerned that spiraling food costs will add to the toll of 26 children that died of malnutrition in recent weeks. For those looking to help out, I recommend an end-of the-year donation to the Lambi Fund of Haiti. I’ve been impressed with their efforts over the years to effect change at a grass-roots level, with an emphasis on reforestation efforts.

Cuba was hit hard too, of course, as was Texas by Hurricane Ike. Dr. Masters has more on these places and others. Read the whole thing.