In terms of the activity, 2009 was a far cry from 2008's record-breaking season, which included a stretch of six consecutive named storms striking the mainland for the first time since record keeping began some 64 years ago. This year's named storm tally was the lowest since 1997, and it marked the first time in three years that no hurricanes hit the U.S. mainland. Also highly unusual was the fact that the first named storm, Ana, didn't form until August 15 -- more than two months into an Atlantic season that officially starts on June 1.
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:
"Near-Normal" Season -- as Expected. Nine named storms formed in the Atlantic this season, which was on target with the low end of the NOAA's predicted range of 9 - 14 storms. Of the three hurricanes that formed, two were major (Category Three strength or higher).
According to NOAA forecasters, one reason for the tepid season was the formation of an El Nino, the eastern Pacific warm-water phenomenon experts believe tends to suppress Atlantic hurricane season activity. According to Gerry Bell, Ph.D., lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, "El Nino produced strong wind shear across the Caribbean Sea and western tropical Atlantic, which resulted in fewer and shorter-lived storms compared to some recent very active seasons."
Impact on Cruising: Despite the relative calm, a number of storms impacted cruise itineraries. Ana and Bill sent ships from lines including Carnival, Princess and Royal Caribbean scrambling in mid August. Erika sparked itinerary changes in September, and earlier this month, Ida wreaked havoc on Central American ports and sparked a number of itinerary changes for Gulf Coast-based ships. According to the Associated Press, the storm caused some flooding and other damage after killing more than 130 people in El Salvador and leaving about 13,000 homeless in Nicaragua.
Activity in the Pacific: Historically, when the Atlantic experiences below normal activity, the Pacific tends to experience above normal seasonal activity and vice versa. And indeed, this year's Pacific season has been brisk. Eighteen named storms have formed in the Eastern Pacific, with numerous 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). There was also a notable near-recording-breaking storm in terms of wind speed. According to the National Hurricane Center, Hurricane Rick, which recorded winds of 180 miles per hour, was the second strongest Eastern Pacific storm on record after 1997's Hurricane Linda, whose wind speed reached roughly 185 m.p.h.
--by Dan Askin, Associate Editor