26th tropical storm develops

Record-setting season ends today, leaving mark in loss of lives, property


MIAMI -- After chewing up and spitting out records, the most active and destructive hurricane season in U.S. history officially ends today - but don't count it over yet.

Forecasters christened the year's record-smashing 26th tropical storm Epsilon yesterday, shortly before they gathered in Washington and Miami to discuss the historic nature of the 2005 season.

The previous record for tropical storms was 21, set in 1933.

Should Epsilon, which was not considered a threat to land, reach hurricane strength, it would become the 14th hurricane of the six-month season.

That would break the record etched late last month by Hurricane Beta, which surpassed the previous mark of 12 hurricanes set in 1969.

But even if Epsilon dissipates before day's end, the season will not fade away.

It smashed too many records, claimed too many lives and livelihoods, destroyed too much property and affected too many nations to become a mere meteorological footnote.

For now - but perhaps not for long - the 2005 season will be the benchmark by which all others are measured.

"Arguably, it was the most devastating hurricane season the country has experienced in modern times," Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr., the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said from Washington.

"I'd like to foretell that next year will be calmer, but I can't. Historical trends say the atmosphere patterns and water temperatures are likely to force another active season upon us."

It will be hard to top this one.

While shattering records for the most tropical storms and most hurricanes, the season exhausted the list of 21 alphabetical names forecasters recycle for storms, for the first time prompting them to turn to the letters of the Greek alphabet.

The season also produced:

Three top-of the-chart Category 5 storms, breaking the record of two Category 5's set in 1960 and matched in 1961. This year, hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma all had top winds exceeding 155 mph.

The most intense hurricane ever documented in the Atlantic basin. Wilma's central pressure briefly plummeted to 882 millibars, busting the benchmark of 888 millibars set by Hurricane Gilbert in 1988.

The highest number of major or intense storms, those classified as Category 3 or higher, to hit the United States in a single year. Together, Dennis, Katrina, Rita and Wilma combined to break the record for intense, land-falling storms set by hurricanes Ivan, Charley and Jeanne last year.

The most extensive damage on record, largely due to Hurricane Katrina, which submerged New Orleans and devastated the Mississippi Coast. Insured losses from the storm are expected to exceed $100 billion. When adjusted for inflation, that more than doubles the record set in 1992, when Hurricane Andrew struck South Miami-Dade County in Florida, and surpassed last year, when an unprecedented four hurricanes pummeled Florida.

The third-deadliest season in U.S. history, behind 1900 and 1928. In all, this season's hurricanes claimed more than 3,000 lives, nearly half of them in the United States, and most of those during Katrina's rampage. Hurricane Stan also killed about 1,500, most of them in Guatemala, after unleashing high winds, floods and mudslides in Central America.

A record-breaking July. Usually a slow part of the season, this July spawned five named storms, including two major hurricanes, the most for any July on record.

One of most unusual cyclones to ever form in the Atlantic basin. Hurricane Vince sprouted about 150 miles northwest of the Madeira Islands, the farthest north and farthest east of any tropical storm on record. It made landfall near Huelva, Spain, as a tropical storm, the first on record to hit the Iberian Peninsula.

"Last year, I said this is going to be a season to tell our grandchildren about, but this one was worse," said Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center west of Miami.

Maya Bell writes for the Orlando Sentinel.

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