NOAA: 2012 hurricane season 'above normal'


Hurricane season officially ended Nov. 30 after producing a greater-than-average number of hurricanes, continuing an era of above-normal seasons, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says.

This season--which began in May with two tropical storms already underway before the official start--produced 19 named storms, 10 of which became hurricanes. An average season sees 12 named storms and six hurricanes. Since 1995, only 30 percent of annual seasons haven't exceeded those numbers.

This year saw just one major hurricane, however--Michael, a Category 3 storm that stayed over the open Atlantic.

It would be "wrong to think that only major hurricanes can ruin lives and impact local economies," cautioned Laura Furgione, acting director of NOAA's National Weather Service.

Also, as Climate Central notes, the official close of the season doesn't necessarily mean an end to hurricanes; since 1851, 20 named storms have formed or persisted into December, "and four of them have occurred just in the past decade, most recently in 2005."

This is the second year in a row that a named Atlantic storm made landfall over the United States with devastating effects far inland. Sandy, which was a post-tropical cyclone by the time it made landfall Oct. 29 over New Jersey, caused estimated damages of $32.8 billion in New York and $29.4 billion in New Jersey and 125 deaths in the United States, with impacts felt as far away as the Great Lakes region and West Virginia. In 2011, rainfall caused by Hurricane Irene caused catastrophic flooding in central and southern Vermont, as well as New York and other parts of New England. In all, Irene caused $15.8 billion worth of damage and 41 deaths in the United States, according (.pdf) to the National Hurricane Center.

The future could fare even worse for the United States. Rising sea levels caused by global warming will amplify the risk to life and property from storm surges, scientists warn. "Rising seas raise the launch pad for coastal storm surges, and tilt the odds toward disaster," Benjamin Strauss, director of the Program on Sea Level Rise at Climate Central, told (.pdf) the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee during an April hearing. "You might think of it this way: Raising the floor of a basketball court would mean a lot more dunks," he added.

A study published Nov. 27 by Environmental Research Letters says sea levels are rising at a rate faster than anticipated.

For more:
- read the NOAA release on the official end of hurricane season

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