The 2008 Atlantic hurricane season officially ends today, after six months of record-setting activity that kept cruise travelers -- and cruise lines -- on their toes.
Unlike last year's season, which was slightly milder than forecast, hurricane activity across the Atlantic Basin this year fell within all of the ranges predicted and earned superlatives in the process. In fact, while only one storm hit the U.S. in 2007, this year marks the first time since record keeping began some 64 years ago that six consecutive named storms struck the mainland. Of particular note is Hurricane Ike, which made landfall near Galveston, flooding streets and homes, and closing the port for several weeks.
Through it all, Cruise Critic updated its annual Hurricane Zone with to-the-minute itinerary changes, port closures and weather advisories. Read on for more facts and figures from Cruise Critic's hurricane team:
Season Above Normal -- as Expected: Sixteen named storms formed in the Atlantic this season, which was on target with the high end of the estimated range of 12 to 16. Of eight hurricanes that formed, five were major (Category Three strength or higher). That is considered an "above normal" season, according to the NOAA; back in May, the NOAA called for a "near or above normal" season with 6 to 10 hurricanes, two to five major.
According to forecasters, the busy season can be attributed not necessarily to global warming but to natural cycles of high and low storm activity. The current upswing started in 1995 and could last as long as 25 to 40 years.
Impact on Cruising: Again, Hurricane Ike had a huge impact this year. Though the September storm came ashore as a Category Two -- not a major hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale -- it was nonetheless devastating, destroying homes and businesses and just wreaking general havoc. The port of Galveston was closed for several weeks; Carnival Cruise Lines relocated to Houston's new Bayport terminal until returning to Galveston on November 1. Grand Turk was also hit hard by Ike, and was closed for a month following the storm. Though the cruise ship pier emerged unscathed, there's still substantial damage being cleaned up all over the island.
Other storms that impacted cruise calls this year include Bertha, Fay, Hanna and Gustav. Hurricane Omar and caused moderate damage to the "ABC islands" (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao), Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands in mid-October, and Hurricane Paloma battered the Cayman Islands and Cuba in November.
Activity Continues in the Pacific: Historically, when the Atlantic experiences above normal activity, the Pacific tends to experience below normal seasonal activity and vice versa. Yet the Pacific saw quite a bit of action this year -- even in light of an above normal Atlantic season. Sixteen named storms formed in the Eastern Pacific, with Alma, Julio, Lowell, Norbert and Odile making landfall along the Mexican Riviera (in the Pacific, it's not unusual for storms to form and then fizzle out without ever touching land). Though ports did not suffer major damage, Lowell and Norbert both impacted itineraries.
2008 Atlantic Season Sets Records: The season is tied as the fourth most active in terms of named storms and major hurricanes, and is tied as the fifth most active in terms of hurricanes. As mentioned above, a record six storms made landfall in the U.S. (Dolly, Eduoard, Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike). Bertha was a tropical cyclone for 17 days in July, making it the longest-lived July storm on record in the Atlantic Basin. Meanwhile, Fay is the only storm on record to make landfall four times in the state of Florida. Paloma, which reached Category Four status with top winds of 145 miles per hour, is the second strongest November hurricane on record behind Lenny in 1999.
This is also the first Atlantic hurricane season to have a major hurricane form in five consecutive months (Bertha in July, Gustav in August, Ike in September, Omar in October and Paloma in November). And for the first time on record, three major hurricanes (Gustav, Ike and Paloma) struck Cuba.
--by Melissa Baldwin Paloti, Managing Editor
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Hurricane Season Officially Ends!
November 30, 2008