The Atlantic hurricane season, as you've probably now heard time and again, officially begins on June 1 and ends on November 30. Typically, first storms begin forming in late July, and by the end of November it's been so long since we've had a storm that the date passes unnoticed.
That's not the case in this most bizarre and record-setting year, of course -- and we can tell you that from our hot seat. Cruise Critic began covering the 2005 hurricane season with a report on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) prediction announcement (see our original story); in May, the government agency expressed "confidence that this will be an active hurricane season" with 12 to 15 tropical storms, of which 7 to 9 were expected to become hurricanes, with 3 to 5 considered major.
That was just the beginning here at Cruise Critic. We covered the impact of storms on itineraries. The impact on ports of embarkation. The tragic story -- which we followed over months -- of Hurricane Katrina. The surprising punch of Hurricane Wilma, particularly as it affected Cozumel, Cancun and South Florida. And the weird story of the hurricane that wasn't -- the Bermuda-bound cruise on Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Seas that was abruptly switched to a New England/Canada itinerary even as other ships managed to sail to Bermuda with no trouble at all (we're still getting e-mails about that one).
And we're keeping an eye on the pesky Epsilon, still spinning hundreds of miles east of the coast of Bermuda, though we don't anticipate it to impact cruise travel in any manner.
Here are a few quick statistics from the season that won't stop spinning:
There were 26 named storms -- with half of those becoming hurricanes.
Three thousand people were killed, about 1,500 of whom were in the U.S.
NOAA notes that this was the third deadliest storm season ever.
And this one even we didn't know:
This season was the first year -- ever -- in which a known tropical system went north from the spawning grounds of Africa's Cape Verde Islands. It hit Spain and Portugal!
Beyond that, some other season-wrapping insights from the hurricane team at Cruise Critic:
Destructive Storms: Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma were the most disruptive to the cruise industry during the June 1 - November 30 period. In August, Katrina caused tragic flooding and destruction along the Gulf Coast, particularly in New Orleans, forcing cruise lines to find alternate turnaround ports and ultimately prompting Carnival (among others) to charter ships to the U.S. government to serve relief efforts. October's Hurricane Wilma pounded Cozumel for two days, ultimately closing the island to cruise traffic for nearly a month, before racing across South Florida (and, incongruously, doubling back and slamming South Florida a second time for good measure).
Exceeded Expectations: As we noted, this year's season has (so far) produced 26 major storms, 13 of which became hurricanes -- sending cruise lines scrambling week after week and month after month to cancel cruises and tweak itineraries (Delta Queen ended up canceling entire fall and winter sailing seasons).
Broken Records: Indeed, 2005 was eerily extraordinary: Early-bird Hurricane Dennis marked the first time in recorded history that four named tropical systems had formed in the Atlantic by July 5. On the flip side, the formation of a 22nd named system -- Tropical Storm Alpha -- not only made the 2005 season the busiest ever (the previous record of 21 had stood since 1933), but also forced the National Hurricane Center to identify storms using the Greek alphabet for the first time.
What's to come in 2006? It looks promising that New Orleans will begin receiving ships at least by early spring. According to Carnival's Bob Dickinson, the city's downtown -- areas such as the French Quarter and the warehouse district -- is on the mend, but airlift to and from New Orleans is still a problem. Carnival will get the ships back that it chartered to FEMA, and all three -- Holiday, Sensation and Inspiration -- will get major refurbishments before heading into service.
And here at Cruise Critic we can most confidently predict that 2006 will see a storm named Alberto. And maybe even William.