All of these figures are significantly above the historical average. And yet they qualify as a relief compared to last year's awful season. With 28 named storms, 15 hurricanes and seven qualifying as major including a record four Category 5's, the most powerful. But then, last season wasn't predicted to be as bad as it turned out, so there's little reason to be reassured. Hurricane experts believe we entered a period of increased hurricane threat back in 1995, with atmospheric conditions that combine for a sort of perfect storm, as it were, of hurricane-favoring conditions. Among them:
warmer than average sea-surface temperatures in the North Atlantic, which pumps heat energy into storms and makes them stronger
less wind shear that is, fewer winds blowing across the path of hurricanes, which tend to disrupt their formation and growth
stronger easterly winds in the upper atmosphere, which encourage storms that form over west Africa to travel across the Atlantic toward the Americas.
What the forecasters can't predict at all is where the track of these storms might lead. Some of them undoubtedly won't make landfall at all, and the ones that do could strike almost anywhere from Massachusetts down to Mexico. With the increase in population in most coastal areas, there will be that much greater potential for death and destruction. With any luck, the lessons of Katrina will at least make evacuations more timely and orderly. But anyone who lives on the Atlantic or Gulf Coast of North America, or on islands in the Caribbean, should begin thinking now about how to deal with a catastrophic storm if it should barrel their way. And emergency management officials would do to go over their disaster plans very, very meticulously.