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1998 Atlantic Hurricane Season

Item #d98nov37

At the end of the 1998 hurricane season, which runs from June through November, NOAA issued a press release citing the above-average number of hurricanes and tropical storms in 1998, the deadliest Atlantic-region season in more than 200 years. They attributed the increased activity, 50% more hurricanes and 30% more tropical storms than normal, to La Niña, which exhibits cooler-than-average sea-surface temperatures in the central tropical Pacific.

On Aug. 4, NOAA forecasters had predicted above normal tropical storms and hurricanes in the Atlantic between August and October. There were 14 tropical cyclones (the average is 10) with ten becoming hurricanes (the average is six), with almost all of them occurring subsequent to the forecasts. “The art of forecasting is better than ever, thanks to our talented people and our investment in science and technology,” said Secretary of Commerce William M. Daley. “Nevertheless, events of this Atlantic hurricane season are sobering.” The storms cost $3.2 billion in insured damages and caused 21 deaths in the United States alone.

Not since the hurricane of 1780 that struck Martinique, St. Eustatius, and Barbados (Oct. 10-16, 1780), killing between 20,000 and 22,000, has the Atlantic hurricane basin seen storm-related fatalities like those of Hurricane Mitch (Oct. 21-Nov. 5). Wire services attribute some 11,000 deaths to Mitch, with thousands more missing. Mitch, a Category-5 monster, registered sustained winds near 180 mph (Oct. 25) with gusts well over 200 mph and was the fourth most intense hurricane ever observed in the Atlantic basin this century based on barometric pressure.

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