Counting Epsilon, the Atlantic has spawned a whopping 26 tropical storms this year, easily outstripping the old record of 21 set in 1933. Thirteen 2005 storms reached hurricane strength, besting the old record of 12 set in 1969. Seven of the thirteen were "major hurricanes"; that is, Category 3 or higher. 2005 marked the first year ever to see three Category 5 hurricanes in one season. Although it did reach Category 5 strength before making landfall, Katrina was only the third strongest hurricane of the season, after Rita and Wilma. At its peak strength, Wilma was the most intense tropical cyclone ever recorded in the Atlantic basin.
The precedents go on and on, but behind the impressive statistics are many grim realities and lingering human suffering. Hurricane Katrina, the costliest and most destructive natural disaster in US history, claimed more than 1,300 lives, and Hurricane Stan was even deadlier, killing more than 2,000 people in Central America. Thousands have been left homeless.
Whether the unprecedented hurricane season can be attributed to global warming or not is still a matter of scientific debate, however many scientists contend that warming trends have already led to increasingly intense storms of longer duration.
In the meantime, the end of the hurricane season only brings temporary relief. With warmer temperatures persisting in the Atlantic, Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center warns that we can expect more hyperactive hurricane seasons in coming years. "You bet I'm worried about next year, and several years after that," Mayfield said at a press conference. "We have six months to prepare for the 2006 hurricane season. It's reality. We've got to deal with that."