A Look Back at the Hurricane Season of 2005

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Ten years have passed since the hyperactive hurricane season of 2005.  By all standards, the 2005 season was the most active on record in the Atlantic Basin, with 28 total tropical or subtropical cyclones.  Of these, 15 became hurricanes, and seven became “major” hurricanes (category three intensity or higher on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale).  Four hurricanes reached category five intensity.  Five storms directly affected the Florida Keys between June and October (one per month):  Tropical Storm Arlene in June, Hurricane Dennis in July, Hurricane Katrina in August, Hurricane Rita in September, and Hurricane Wilma in October.  Wilma by far was the most damaging (in the Florida Keys), with the worst local storm surge flooding observed in decades (at least since Hurricane Betsy in 1965).  Of course, the 2004 season was busy as well, with lesser impacts in the Florida Keys from Hurricane Charley in August, and Hurricanes Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne in September.  Between August 2004 and October 2005, the National Weather Service Doppler Radar unit on Boca Chica Key scanned the eyes of nine tropical cyclones within its 450-nautical-mile range!  By the end of 2005, many Keys residents were flat-out exhausted from the monthly cycle of storm watching, monitoring, planning, preparing, evacuating, returning, and cleaning up. However, despite the stress, physical damage, and economic losses, Florida Keys communities were spared from the worst.  The “major” hurricanes had stayed just far enough away.  Hurricane Wilma, had its path been just 20 or 30 miles farther south, would have caused much, much greater wind damage and additional storm surge flooding. In the decade following Hurricane Wilma, the Florida Keys have remained largely unaffected by significant tropical cyclones.  In 2008, Tropical Storm Fay and Hurricane Gustav came close enough to bring some gales and squalls.  Hurricane Ike threatened for a few days before heading south of the Keys (although a spiral rainband spawned a fast-moving tornado that residents of Lower Matecumbe Key near mile marker 74 will not soon forget).  A series of near-miss tropical storms made the news from 2009–2012, including Tropical Storm Isaac, a late-August system which followed an ominous path up the Old Bahama Channel and across the lower Straits of Florida, but never was able to intensify into a hurricane.  Then, there was Hurricane Sandy which passed the Keys to the east before it transitioned and expanded into the post-tropical storm which caused so much damage along portions of the eastern seaboard.  The years 2013 and 2014 passed without incident, so to speak, and here we are now in 2015, a decade since Hurricane Wilma and the busy 2005 season, 50 years since Hurricane Betsy looped north of the Bahamas, returned southwestward, and flooded Keys communities, 55 years since category four Hurricane Donna devastated the area from Vaca to Long Keys, and 80 years since the infamous Florida Keys Labor Day Hurricane killed hundreds around Lower Matecumbe Key, while ending Henry Flagler’s “Key West Extension” of the Florida East Coast Railway. A study of hurricane paths since the 1850’s reveals considerable variation from season to season, and even from decade to decade.  However, the Florida Keys remain one of the most vulnerable communities to hurricane impacts in the United States.  This vulnerability arises from both the high frequency of storms and a sensitive infrastructure (low-lying islands, one economic artery from the mainland, etc.).  The solution to the hurricane problem is planning, preparation, and action!  Make a plan for yourself, your family, and your business.  Some things to consider: 1) know where and how you will evacuate when told to do so; 2) get supplies; 3) update insurance; 4) strengthen home; 5) know how you will get your boat out of the water, and where you will take it. Finally, be an active recipient of quality weather information.  Remember, it only takes one storm to ruin an otherwise “quiet” hurricane season!  Be weather-ready, hurricane prepared, and stay safe! kasper


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