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Atlantic tropical-storm traffic above normal for fourth straight year, sets record

For the first time, the Atlantic Basin has had 15 or more named storms in each of four years as an active hurricane period that began in 1995 continues.

A beached boat in the destroyed sea front near the port is seen in Marsh Harbour, Bahamas on Sept. 10, a week after Hurricane Dorian.
A beached boat in the destroyed sea front near the port is seen in Marsh Harbour, Bahamas on Sept. 10, a week after Hurricane Dorian.Read moreANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP /

Eighteen tropical storms developed in the Atlantic Basin in the 2019 season, marking the first time on record that 15 or more named storms have formed in each of four consecutive years.

The brisk traffic underscored that the basin, which includes the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, remained in an active hurricane period that began in 1995, extracting an immense toll in deaths, property and infrastructure damage, and costs to the U.S. taxpayers.

» READ MORE: Hurricane Dorian survivors struggle to start new life in Bahamas

The season ends officially on Saturday, but, “Yeah, it’s over,” said Dennis Feltgen, the meteorologist who is the National Hurricane Center’s spokesperson. The center decided to release its summary report Tuesday on the ground that people would be less likely to pay much attention once they get a whiff of turkey.

Other than the four seasons ending in 2001, no other four-year period in records dating to 1871 had even 12 or more storms in each year. However, data before the 1960s isn’t comparable with that of recent decades; countless storms likely were missed before the satellite era, especially in the far eastern Atlantic.

A reanalysis of data for the 1931-1943 seasons added about two per season.

Of this year’s 18 named storms — those with winds of at least 39 mph — six grew into hurricanes, with winds of 74 mph or better, and three into “major hurricanes,” peak winds of at least 111 mph. The most-destructive was Dorian, which devastated parts of the Bahamas.

» READ MORE: A new round of downpours for the region, and Barry may be a factor.

The seasonal averages are 12 named storms, six hurricanes, and three majors.

The 2019 season was exceptional on a couple of fronts. Hurricane Dorian matched three others — the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane; 1988’s Hurricane Gilbert; and 2005’s underrated Hurricane Wilma, which lived in the shadow of Katrina — for peak winds, at 185 mph.

In addition, five named storms formed in the Gulf, tying 2003 and 1957 for the most in that region. Three of those, including Barry, made landfall.

But the 2019 season wasn’t as destructive as 2018′s in the United States. Last year, FEMA declared eight major disasters for hurricanes; this year, half that number.

» READ MORE: Hurricane Michael slams Florida panhandle in ‘worst case scenario’

Historically, hurricanes have been the No. 1 driver of disaster costs and tropical-storm-related flooding has swamped the government’s National Flood Insurance Program with better than $20.525 billion in debt, according to a congressional report updated Tuesday.

That money is owed to the U.S. Treasury. It is unclear when it would be repaid and, the report said, “it may increase considerably with future catastrophic incidents."

It is not known how long the active hurricane period will continue. They are tied to slow changes in the Atlantic circulation, hurricane researchers say, and historically they have lasted 25 to 40 years.