NOAA 2001-R120
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Frank Lepore
11/29/01

2001 ATLANTIC HURRICANE SEASON CONTINUES TREND FOR HEIGHTENED STORM ACTIVITY
U.S. Goes Two Straight Seasons Without A Direct Hurricane Hit

As Tropical Storm Olga churns in the Atlantic, the official 2001 Atlantic Hurricane Season draws to a close, capping off another year with increased hurricane activity. The season, which ends Nov. 30, brought 15 named storms, including nine hurricanes -- four classified as major. In the end, forecasters from the National Weather Service, an agency of the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said the 2001 season re-awakened the nation to the deadly, catastrophic realities of tropical storms.

Tropical Storms v. Hurricanes
"Many people think it's just hurricanes that carry the danger and destruction, but Tropical Storm Allison put that myth to rest," said retired general Jack Kelly, NOAA's National Weather Service director. Allison went into the weather history books as the costliest tropical storm ever to strike the United States. The storm left 24 dead and more than $5 billion in damages throughout Texas and Louisiana before heading to the East Coast.

Two other tropical storms – Barry and Gabrielle – hit the United States with just-below-hurricane strength.

"Tropical storms are as serious as hurricanes because of their potential to wreak havoc with heavy rains that cause major floods," said Max Mayfield, National Hurricane Center director. "It's important for residents not to just focus solely on a storm's wind speeds. The rains can kill, too."

Accurate Outlooks Continue
In August, NOAA Weather Service forecasters predicted increased hurricane activity, continuing a trend of heightened activity that began in 1995. Forecasters from NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, Hurricane Research Division and National Hurricane Center were accurate for a fourth straight year with their annual joint hurricane outlook.

Although above average in the number of named storms, the 2001 season was the second consecutive year without a land-falling hurricane in the United States. Since Hurricane Irene in 1999, there have been 18 hurricanes that formed but did not strike the United States – a new record.

"The respite in hurricane landfalls can be attributed partially to luck, and a persistent trough near the U.S. East Coast that helped steer away the storms," Mayfield said.

Several of this year's storms stayed well to the south, moving westward through the Caribbean, following the easterly steering winds. Other potential hurricanes coming out of the deep tropics were weakened by unfavorable upper-level winds.

"Considerable research by NOAA hurricane scientists in recent years has contributed substantially to our long-term forecast success," said Scott Gudes, NOAA's acting administrator. "This research has also improved our ability to monitor, diagnose, and predict the interactions between multi-decadal climate variations and the corresponding impacts on upcoming Atlantic hurricane activity."

Population growth and development along the East and Gulf coasts, Kelly said, "point to a potential disaster when a powerful hurricane does inevitably strike. There is no way to tell if the steering patterns, which kept the hurricanes away from the U.S. in 2000 and 2001, will be around next season."

Model Guidance Proves Critical
As a highlight to the 2001 season, Mayfield credited the National Weather Service's improved forecast model guidance as pivotal in the accurate forecasting of Hurricane Michelle.

"It took a Herculean effort by the U.S. Air Force (Reserves) and NOAA aircraft to gather extra reconnaissance data crunched in the numerical prediction models at NOAA's Environmental Modeling Center," Mayfield said.

"The aircraft data and supplemental weather balloon launches by National Weather Service Southern Region forecast offices fed critical data to the models. The consistency of the model output for the storm's track allowed our team to make a very good forecast for Michelle to turn northeastward perilously near, but off-shore of, the south Florida coast."

The National Weather Service is the primary source of weather data, forecasts and warnings for the United States and its territories. NOAA Weather Service operates the most advanced weather and flood warning and forecast system in the world, helping to protect lives and property and enhance the national economy.

To learn more about NOAA Weather Service, please visit http://www.nws.noaa.gov.

NOTE TO EDITORS: Detailed summaries of the 2001 storms are found on the NOAA National Hurricane Center Web site: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov under "Current Season Summaries and Reports."