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2004 Hurricane Season: 'Once in a Lifetime'

Nov. 19, 2004 – Although the 2004 hurricane season still has 11 days left to go until it's officially over, hurricane forecaster William Gray sent out his annual how-we-did update Friday.
"This year has been a once-in-a-lifetime kind of year," Gray said.
The season saw 14 named storms and eight hurricanes. Six of those eight hurricanes developed into intense storms with winds over 111 mph.
In the May 28 update issued just days before the June 1 official start of hurricane season, Gray and his team were close to what actually happened with 14 named storms, eight hurricanes and three intense storms. He made minor adjustments to his prediction several times throughout the season.
Although the territory was spared a direct hit, Hurricane Frances brushed by to the north on Aug. 31, dumping rain and blowing some heavy winds felt most on St. Thomas and St. John. Hurricane Ivan went 250 miles south of St. Croix on Sept. 8, giving the territory another scare. And as Hurricane Ivan flooded the mainland airwaves with news of its approach to Florida, Tropical Storm Jeanne caused widespread power outages, heavy rains and flooding. St. Croix saw the most problems because the storm tracked only 40 miles south of the territory's largest island on Sept. 15.
Florida wasn't so lucky. The Sunshine State took a direct hit from four storms, including one major storm. Gray said they caused over $50 billion in damages.
However, he said Florida residents should not expect subsequent hurricane seasons to be so bad.
Gray, who works at Colorado State University, said in a news release there was no way that he or anyone else could have foreseen the number of Atlantic basis major hurricanes that developed during August and September or the large impact they had on the Caribbean and the southeast corner of the United States.
"This year had characteristics unlike any other year we have studied," he said.
He said that the high number of major hurricanes was not so unusual, but very favorable steering conditions drove so many storms from the deep tropics across the Caribbean and into Florida during the short time span of six weeks.
Additionally, Atlantic sea surface temperatures were unusually warm throughout most of the Atlantic basin, which enhances tropical cyclone formation.
Other technical factors like "strong low-level convergence, high low-level horizontal wind shear and low vertical wind sheer" combined perfectly to form the high number of major hurricanes.
"It was unusual to have these conditions come together so perfectly at one time," Gray said.
He said this season's hurricanes had long westward tracks not usually seen in past years.
Gray said that August's eight named storms and three intense hurricanes were more than any other August on record.
Hurricane Ivan, which devastated Grenada before cutting a swath through the Caribbean and on to Florida, was the longest-living intense hurricane on record. It had 10 intense hurricane days, meaning it had winds over 111 mph for those days. The 1926 Miami hurricane held the previous record of 9.25 days.
This was the 21st year that Gray and his team made hurricane season predictions.

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