1995: the year of the hurricane

NO SOONER had Hurricane Opal blown itself out late last week, ending up as torrential rains over New England, than a new threat was gathering force in what is becoming a record season for fierce Atlantic storms. Tropical storm Pablo, building up in the mid-Atlantic, started to approach hurricane force as Opal's predecessor, Hurricane Noel, was threatening the Azores.

Never, since hurricanes and tropical storms were first named after successive letters of the alphabet, have meteorologists in the western hemisphere got as far as P. With two months of the hurricane season to come, this year has already recorded the fourth highest tally since records began in the 1870s. On a month-to-month basis this is the most tempestuous season for more than 60 years.

Experts predict that hurricanes will get stronger and more frequent and cause more damage in coming years. Some believe global warming will make things even worse. Insurers fear that climate change will cause them huge losses, bankrupting much of their industry.

Hurricane Opal, the third to slam into Florida this season, was one of the fiercest storms ever to hit the Gulf Coast, with winds approaching 150mph. It killed 17 people in the southern US and at least 10 more in Mexico. More than 100,000 Americans were forced to leave their homes, two million lost electric power and a space shuttle launch was postponed.

The damage in Florida alone - some $1.8bn (pounds 1.1bn) - made this the third most expensive hurricane in American history. When destruction in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina is added, Opal may well overtake 1989's $5.8bn Hurricane Hugo and come second only to the $16.5bn Hurricane Andrew of 1992.

This year's season started earlier than ever when Hurricane Allison hit the Florida coast in June The tally since then reads like a roll call at a meeting of Psychopaths Anonymous. Dean hit Texas in late July, Erin killed 11 people in the Florida Panhandle in early August, Felix killed nine in Bermuda and the mid-Atlantic seaboard some 10 days later, while Iris killed three people in the eastern Caribbean towards the end of that month. Luis hit the Leeward Islands at the beginning of September and Marilyn destroyed 80 per cent of homes on the island of St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands.

Pablo was yesterday 600 miles off the West Indies and moving westwards. It was still too early to predict its final course, but the US National Hurricane Centre in Miami warned: "People should pay attention because anything could happen." Pablo is the 16th named tempest in the Atlantic this year (they are rated as tropical storms when their winds reach 39mph and as hurricanes at 74mph) and the first ever to begin with a letter P. Naming begin in 1951 using the phonetic alphabet (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, etc). In 1978 meteorologists began giving them female christian names, hurriedly changing after protests to both sexes a year later. "We did not have phonetical correctness then," says Frank Lepore of the National Hurricane Centre, "but the equality movement was in full flower."

Only once since the naming began have there been more tempests in a season: there were 18 in 1969, but meteorologists omitted to name three of them. But this year is expected to overtake it before the season is out, making it the second stormiest on record, after the 21 recorded in 1933.

It is, however, a quieter year in the Pacific. There have been no named tempests in the central Pacific at all so far this year, compared to the usual four or five. They have reached J for Juliet in the eastern Pacific, which is somewhat below average, and are rather above the average number in the western Pacific and Indian Ocean, where the names have reached S for Sybil.

Professor William Gray, of Colorado State University, who earlier this year predicted a record hurricane season, believes that the storms will now get worse, after 25 years of relative calm. He forecasts that the end of the lull will bring the US "hurricane destruction as never before experienced" because of large-scale development along vulnerable coasts over recent decades.

He dismisses global warming as a cause of this year's storms, but some scientists believe that the weather will get more tempestuous as the oceans heat up: the London Meteorological Office, for example, expects them to increase by 50 per cent as global warming takes hold.

This is causing alarm in the insurance industry, which has already been heavily battered by natural catastrophes in recent years. Twenty-one of the 25 largest insured catastrophes in the US have occurred in the last decade, driving companies out of business, and Munich Re, the world's largest re-insurance group, has warned that climate change is likely to create new records for damage.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk