In final analysis, outlook for hurricane season was overblown


The 2007 Atlantic hurricane season, which ended Nov. 30, turned out to be milder than originally forecast. 

The weather experts, who initially predicted at least 17 named storms, went back to their storm charts and analyses in midseason and revised their numbers downward.

The six-month season brought a total of 14 named storms to the Atlantic, including six hurricanes, making it an average season. An additional two hurricanes formed in the Pacific.

Gerry Bell, a forecaster with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said the number of named storms was normal, "but where we have been a bit low is on the number of hurricanes."

With back-to-back hurricane seasons that were relatively tame, Florida officials fear that they will be fighting public apathy when they issue warnings for the 2008 hurricane season.

"The farther we get away from these events, the more complacent people become, and that's our continuing challenge," said Craig Fugate, the director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

Farther south, things were a bit rougher, though impact on tourism was minimal.

This season's named storms killed more than 200 people in Martinique, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Nicaragua and Mexico.

Two of the hurricanes that formed in the Caribbean made Category 5 landfalls with winds that topped 156 mph and rainfall amounts that spawned storm surges, flooding, mudslides and drownings.

Mean Dean

In August, Hurricane Dean ravaged the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica's south coast and Mexico's Gulf Coast, killing more than 30 people and destroying a cruise ship pier in the Yucatan.

In Mexico, tourists and residents were evacuated in a more timely and organized manner than during Hurricane Wilma, which devastated Cancun in 2005.

"The lessons we have learned since Hurricane Wilma were evident in our preparations for Hurricane Dean," said Arturo Escaip, director general of the Cancun Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"The entire destination reacted with professionalism in a timely manner to make Cancun a safe haven."

Although there was damage to Costa Maya, the Mexican cruise port near the border of Belize where Dean made landfall, repairs have been made, according to Cesar Lizarrage, Costa Maya's director of sales and marketing.

Mexico had more than $300 million in insured losses from the storm, according to Risk Management Solutions, which calculates hurricane damage for the insurance industry. By comparison, Hurricane Wilma in 2005 caused $1.8 billion in insured losses, the firm said.

In September, Hurricane Felix pummeled Nicaragua's Caribbean coast as a Category 5 storm, killing 102 in its wake primarily along the Miskito coast, home to thousands of indigenous Indians who lived in wooden shacks.

Neighboring Honduras fared better as the storm's track and subsequent downgrade to a tropical depression minimized damage as compared to what could have been sustained by a direct impact, according to Ricardo Martinez, the country's minister of tourism.

Jamaica was slammed hard by Dean, prompting Prime Minister Bruce Golding to announce in late November that the government would disperse millions of dollars to repair rain-ravaged roads, replant damaged crops and rebuild destroyed homes.

Then there was Noel, the last storm of the season, which soaked parts of the Caribbean for five days in early November before becoming a Category 1 storm.

But even as a tropical storm, Noel, rang up a death toll of more than 150, as rivers broke their banks and surged through towns, according to government officials in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Cuba.

The Dominican Republic responded with more than $200 million in emergency aid, although its ministry of tourism was quick to point out that no major tourist hotels or centers had been damaged.

Preparedness draws praise

Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace and Alec Sanguinetti, the joint CEOs of the Caribbean Tourism Development Corp., acknowledged the heightened level of preparedness of the region and the response from island nations during the season.

"The Caribbean region is better prepared overall today than in years past," Vanderpool-Wallace said. "We appreciate the cooperation of our guests and our industry partners in helping prepare."

The stronger of the two Pacific hurricanes, Flossie, grew to a Category 4 but had been downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it flirted with the Big Island of Hawaii.

The threat led NCL America to alter the itineraries of two of its ships, but the storm never made landfall, passing 150 miles to the south of the Big Island.

To contact reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to [email protected].

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