Hurricane season almost over

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Since last June, I have regularly gone to the National Hurricane Center website and checked to see what was out there.
Today there is a “disturbance” several hundred miles southwest of Bermuda that has a 20 percent chance of developing into something before this column is published. Then I can mark it with a pin on my hurricane map.
There aren’t many pins this year. It has been a mild season, so far. Nothing like 2004.
Has it really been a decade since Hurricane Charlie tore up central Florida, since Hurricane Frances destroyed what Charlie left behind, and since Category 5 Ivan roared in near Gulf Shores and headed toward us?
If you ever want an example of how a hurricane can do damage far inland, go to Ivan. Hurricane force winds were felt as far north as Demopolis. Roughly half of Alabama Power’s customers went dark.  Downgraded to a tropical storm, Ivan dumped record rainfalls and spawned tornadoes all the way to Delaware. There it re-entered the Atlantic, turned south, took another shot at Florida, then re-entered the Gulf and finally fizzled out over Louisiana. The pins on my map looked like a snake coiled around the southeast.
My family was right in the middle of it. My 88-year old mother and 87-year old father hunkered down. When I called to see if they wanted me to come get them, Daddy curtly told me that he had matters in hand. Sure enough, I found out later that he (or at least Mama) had invited Aunt Stella and Miz Margaret, widow-women pushing 80, to hunker down with them. Since we had a gas stove out in the Poutin’ House, hunkering down involved cooking food before it spoiled. Daddy ate like a king.
The man knew how to live. The year 2004 turned out to be the costliest Hurricane Season on record – $57.37 billion in damages. Most folks figured that record would stand for years. Most folks were wrong.
It seemed that no sooner had I pulled all the 2004 pins out of my map than I began putting them in again.  Hurricane season had hardly begun when Arlene popped up and by July 4, Hurricane Cindy was dumping rain and spinning off tornadoes in Alabama and Georgia.
After that, the storms ticked off the letters of the alphabet – Dennis, Emily, Franklin, Gert and Harvey, which blew hard and fizzled out (be nice now).
However, all of these were forgotten when the list reached “K.”
In August, Katrina came ashore with winds that reached 120 miles per hour.  But, as so often is the case, it wasn’t the wind that did the Gulf Coast in. A 30-foot storm surge left catastrophic damage in Alabama and Mississippi beach communities. The water washed out the levies that protected New Orleans, and flooded 80 percent of the city.
Like storms before it, Hurricane Katrina continued inland leaving death and destruction in its wake.  Even today, estimates of the economic impact of Katrina remain incomplete.
The season continued and the list grew – Lee, Maria, Nate – they seemed to be everywhere. Ophelia and Rita, though nothing like Katrina, nevertheless added to the Gulf Coast’s misery. Finally the storms reached Wilma, the last, and for the first time since storms were named they had to switch over to the Greek alphabet – Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta – until, on Dec. 29, more than four weeks after the season supposedly ended, a tropical depression got organized enough to become the last named storm of 2005.
It was the longest, most destructive, most deadly hurricane season on record.
Then things got quiet.
In 2006 no hurricanes made landfall in the United States. The next year was a bit more active but only one hurricane, Humberto, came ashore along our Gulf Coast. In 2008 there was Gustav and Ike, but by then Katrina had become the storm against which all others were measured; the others were seen as little more than Weather Channel events.
Hurricane season 2009 was graded “below average” – except of course in places where storms came ashore – and though 2010 saw more activity, the Gulf Coast suffered little damage. The same was true for 2011, which had storms aplenty but mostly in the Atlantic, underscoring once again the belief that if it doesn’t hit you, it is not significant.
Another year, another reprieve. Again most of the activity was in the Atlantic. Hurricane Isaac did come ashore near New Orleans, but the repaired levees held, so there was no repeat of Katrina. The next year, 2013, was below, below average. For the first time in over 35 years no hurricanes reached at least Category 2 intensity.
Now we are coming to the end of the 2014 season and the Gulf is quiet.
How much longer?  Who knows, but I am not putting away my map and pins. Not yet.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at hjackson@cableone.net.

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