Hurricane season quietly comes to an end

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 2, 2006

Following a year that saw four hurricanes - including catastrophic Katrina and Rita - strike the United States mainland, experts predicted an equally devastating 2006 Atlantic hurricane season.

But the season ended on Thursday without a single hurricane hitting the U.S.

Butler County EMA Bob Luman said everyone can now breathe a sigh of relief, but encouraged people not to let complacency set in.

&#8220I don't think many will,” he said. &#8220It's just been one year since Katrina and people still remember Ivan around here.”

Category 3 Hurricane Ivan devastated Butler County in September 2004. Hurricane Katrina was responsible for the mass exodus of millions on the Louisiana, Mississippi and the Alabama Gulf Coast, and left 1,500 people dead.

Scientists predicted there could be as many as 16 named storms and 10 hurricanes in 2006. Emergency agencies stockpiled meals-ready-to-eat, ice and water at staging areas around the state in preparation for a major hurricane.

The supplies weren't needed. There were nine named storms and five hurricanes this season. Only two of the hurricanes were considered major.

Tropical Storms Alberto and Ernesto were the only two storms to hit the U.S., but neither storm caused major damage.

&#8220We got a much-welcome break after a lot of the coast had been compromised in the last several years, but this is a one-season break,” Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told the Associated Press.

Forecasters said El Nino - a warming of ocean water - is to thank for halting the formation of many storms in the Atlantic. Also, upper-level air currents across the U.S. acted as an invisible barrier that pushed hurricanes out to sea.

Preparation now begins, said Luman, for 2007. The next hurricane season starts on June 1 and scientists have indicated that the Atlantic could remain a hotbed for hurricane activity for the next decade.

Luman said the county would remain focused on educating the public about hurricane preparation, through pamphlets and the media. He also said the county is looking into the purchase of the old radar tower on U.S. 31. near Bolling. Originally constructed by the federal government during the Cold War to help in the detection of enemy missile or plane attacks from the south, Luman said the building would be used as a central emergency operations center for the county during times of crisis.

&#8220It's about 40 square foot and the walls on the building are about two feet thick so it could definitely withstand hurricane force winds or tornadoes,” said Luman.

Luman said EMA has also formed a special medical unit made up of local physicians who have volunteered to assist the sick and injured during a disaster.