(Photo: REUTERS/NOAA Satellite and Information Service/Handout)
The 2011 hurricane season ends Wednesday leaving 120 people dead and causing over $11 billion in damage, according to estimates.
The season produced 19 named tropical storms – well above the average of 11 in a given season and representing the third-highest total since records began in 1851, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Seven of the tropical storms grew into hurricanes, including three major hurricanes (Category 3 or higher with top winds of 111 mph and greater). A tropical storm is named if and when wind speeds reach 39 mph, and a storm is called a hurricane if and when winds reach 74 mph.
Irene was the only Hurricane to hit the U.S., making landfall along the Outer Banks of North Carolina and then again in New Jersey.
“Irene broke the ‘hurricane amnesia’ that can develop when so much time lapses between landfalling storms,” Jack Hayes, director of NOAA’s National Weather Service, said. “This season is a reminder that storms can hit any part of our coast and that all regions need to be prepared each and every season.”
Hurricane Irene killed 45 people and caused at least $7 billion in damage, according to the National Climatic Data Center. It was America’s most lethal and financially damaging hurricane since Ike in 2008. It spawned torrential rains leading to devastating floods in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.
Hurricane Irene was predicted four days in advance by the National Hurricane Center, showing that accuracy in forecasting storm track has increased. But a weaker-than-anticipated Irene at landfall also highlights the challenges that remain in forecasting storm intensity, says NOAA.
Lee was the only tropical storm to make U.S. landfall, coming ashore along the Louisiana coast with winds of 45 mph. It dumped extremely large amounts of rain along the Gulf Coast causing widespread flooding. Lee killed 13 people and caused at least $1 billion in flood damage, according to the National Climatic Data Center.
WMBF News estimates that 120 people lost their lives and over $11 billion in property was damaged by tropical weather over the course of the season.
This season marked a record six straight years without a major hurricane making U.S. landfall. The last one to do so was Wilma in 2005. However, Irene and Lee prove that wind is not the only threat with tropical systems. On average, more than half of the fatalities related to tropical systems are due to flooding, NOAA estimates.
“Although the 2011 hurricane season has ended, our need to prepare for disasters hasn’t,” Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, warned. “Being prepared for all kinds of hazards, from hurricanes to blizzards to tornadoes, is a year-round activity.”
“We encourage all members of the team, especially the public, to continue to prepare for emergencies by staying informed of forecasted weather events, making an emergency plan, and building your emergency preparedness kit.”