NOAA 99-079
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Frank Lepore
11/30/99

NOAA'S HURRICANE OFFICIALS ON TARGET WITH PRE-SEASONAL STORM FORECAST
Close 1999 Season Reporting Above Average Fury and Floods

Washington, D.C.– The nation's hurricane officials at the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration closed the 1999 Atlantic hurricane season today, pointing to their accurate pre-seasonal forecast and reporting that this season's weaker storms caused tremendous damage and loss of life, mostly due to extensive inland flooding.

In May, a team of NOAA scientists at the agency's Climate Prediction Center, National Hurricane Center and Hurricane Research Division accurately issued their first-ever hurricane season forecast, which called for an "above average" season of more than 10 tropical storms, six hurricanes, and at least three "major" hurricanes (Category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, with winds 111 mph or higher). Indeed, 1999 was busier than normal in all respects, with 12 tropical storms (avg. 10), eight which became hurricanes (avg. 6), and five major hurricanes (avg. 2). The season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30 each year. But officials said the hurricane story this year is not so much in the numbers, as in the devastation caused by rain and flooding.

"Hurricanes Floyd and Irene are cruel reminders that hurricanes can produce tragic loss of life and devastating economic disruption from inland flooding beyond a hurricane's damaging wind, storm surge or tornadoes," said D. James Baker, NOAA administrator and under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere. "Our department's technology and people accurately defined the threats in the case of hurricanes Floyd and Irene, yet there is much we can and must do to increase the public's awareness of these additional threats and reduce the toll from collateral effects. The tragic loss of life and economic disruption caused by Hurricane Floyd's wide-spread flooding from eastern North Carolina to New England and the rainfall from Irene reminds us that we cannot lower our guard for the seemingly weak storm."

Hurricanes Bret, Floyd and Irene and tropical storms Dennis and Harvey struck the mainland United States, claiming 60 direct deaths, and causing about $1.7 billion in
insured damage and nearly $4 billion in total damages. The 1998 Atlantic hurricane season, also more active than normal, brought 14 tropical storms, of which 10 became hurricanes, including three major hurricanes that inflicted $7.3 billion in damages and caused 23 fatalities in the United States alone.

"Given the loss of any life, we must redouble our efforts to increase public awareness of the dangers posed by all types of weather-related events," said Jack Kelly, director of NOAA's National Weather Service. "Improved technology gives us advanced warning of these events. Government can inform and lead, but it's ultimately individual action that saves lives."

Referring to a small fire at the National Weather Service's Environmental Modeling Center that disabled a Cray C-90 super computer during Hurricane Floyd's move up the coast, Kelly said, "The National Weather Service set in motion plans to ensure the viability of its technology and continuity of vital forecast operations. While it is prohibitively expensive to "bullet proof" everything, we achieved redundancy through cooperative arrangements with other federal agencies and international weather organizations. NOAA's investment in a new computer to replace the Cray C-90, already at the end of its service life, makes us less vulnerable."

Jerry Jarrell, National Hurricane Center director, said, "I am very pleased with the back-up support provided by the U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts, and the United Kingdom's Meteorological Office to provide model guidance to our forecast staff. In this day and age of technological interdependence, we rely on each other. At no time was service seriously degraded."

1999 Season Specifics:

This season's heightened activity was no surprise to NOAA forecasters, who knew a continuing La Niña cycle would generate "above average" storm activity as unusually cold sea-surface temperatures in the eastern equatorial Pacific triggered atmospheric patterns that influenced hurricane formation and movement in the Atlantic.

Hurricane Floyd, which looked like a large-sized version of (1992) Hurricane Andrew, posed a serious threat to Florida as a strong Category 4 hurricane with 155 mph winds. Floyd turned north and northwestward while slowly weakening to a Category 2 hurricane. As it paralleled the southeastern coast from Florida to the Carolinas, emergency management triggered the largest coastal evacuation in recent U.S. history. Floyd eventually made landfall near Cape Fear, N.C. (16 Sept.), producing massive inland flooding. The current death toll of 56 direct deaths would make Floyd the deadliest U.S. hurricane since Agnes, 1972.

Hurricane Irene, another deadly storm of the season, formed Oct. 13 and passed over Cuba and the Florida Keys (Oct. 15). After crossing the Keys, the Category 1 hurricane made landfall on Florida's southern tip near Flamingo, Fla. Torrential rains of 10 to 20 inches fell on densely populated areas in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties, causing urban flooding not seen in the area since Tropical Storm Dennis in 1981. Irene claimed eight indirect deaths and caused damage estimated at $800 million, mostly from crop destruction.

Other major storms of interest: Hurricane Bret (18-22 Sept.) reached a peak intensity of 150-mph (Category 4 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale). With winds of 125 mph, Bret made landfall in a sparsely populated area midway between Brownsville and Corpus Christi, Texas.

Hurricane Lenny, a very unusual west-to-east moving low latitude hurricane, battered portions of the Caribbean around mid-November. On Nov. 17th, Lenny was a strong category 4 Saffir-Simpson storm with winds of 150 sustained miles per hour.