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Top of Page. When the fiercest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic is bearing down on you, a salvaged armchair under a wood-and-tin awning might seem a poor choice of shelter. But that's where Don E. For Don and a buddy, it was the start of the workday at Jimbo's Place, a ramshackle beer and bait shop down by the water on Miami's Virginia Key. Jimbo's looks like nothing so much as an abandoned shack. But whether through good luck or unexpectedly sound construction, it survived Wilma's fury.

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Mercifully, the winds had ebbed from miles per hour For the next two weeks a generator and donated bags of ice kept Jimbo's open—the only establishment on the key where visitors could be assured of a cold beer and a friendly welcome. Wilma was a record breaker in a season of unsettling records.

What causes hurricanes, what is the strongest category and when is the Atlantic hurricane season?

Katrina, at the end of August, killed more than a thousand people and left much of New Orleans and the neighboring coast in ruins. The damage exceeded a hundred billion dollars—the costliest natural disaster in U. These three monster storms were part of an unmatched run of Atlantic hurricanes—15 in all. With a total of 27 named tropical storms, was the first year meteorologists exhausted their preseason list of 21 Atlantic cyclone names and had to dip into the Greek alphabet for the latecomers.

Days after Wilma, one visitor to Jimbo's was already worrying about what future hurricane seasons might bring. He is one of a cadre of scientists trying to understand nature's most powerful storms and more reliably predict their surges, ebbs, and lurching paths from birth to landfall.

Tropical weather forecast: Sept. 18, 2019

Swatting at sand flies on a warm November night, Majumdar says he can't really blame his fellow patrons at Jimbo's for deciding to stay put during Wilma. Forecasts today can get hurricane tracks wrong by hundreds of miles and wind speeds by tens of miles per hour As a result, Majumdar says, "people often return after an evacuation to find nothing really happened.

Hurricane and tropical storm tracking map

The stakes have never been higher. Population is burgeoning along vulnerable coasts in the U. In the southeastern U. The North Atlantic hurricane nursery, responding to a natural climate cycle, is experiencing a baby boom that isn't expected to end for a decade or more. And behind it all lurks the grim possibility that global warming is making these storms stronger. Like all weather, hurricanes are fueled by heat—the heat of sun-drenched tropical seas, which powers the storms by sending warm, moist air rushing toward the frigid upper atmosphere like smoke up a chimney.

As surrounding air is sucked in at the base of the storm, Earth's rotation gives it a twist, creating a whorl of rain bands. These whiptails of thunderstorm activity are strongest where they converge in a ring of rising, spinning air, the eyewall, which encloses the cloud-free eye. Hurricanes called typhoons in the western Pacific and tropical cyclones in the Indian Ocean can propel themselves to an altitude of 50, feet 15, meters or more, where the rising air finally vents itself in spiraling exhaust jets of cirrus clouds. The largest ever, the Pacific typhoon Tip, sent gale-force winds across more than miles Even an average hurricane packs some 1.

Starting this great weather engine requires surface waters of 80 degrees or more, moist air, and little wind shear—a difference in wind speed at the surface and aloft that can tear apart a developing hurricane. But those ingredients often produce nothing more than a tropical disturbance—an unremarkable cluster of thunderstorms. One thing was clear in Conditions were ideal for making hurricanes. From June through November—the official Atlantic hurricane season—bulletins and warnings streamed from the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

But the most telling moment of the season came on November 29, one day before its official end, when NHC director Max Mayfield and other officials gave a summary report. Even as the officials recited a sobering roll call of power and destruction, the NHC duty forecaster was charting tropical storm Epsilon, just then getting ready to spin itself into yet another hurricane. Yet was just a continuation of the upward trend that began in Because of a tropical climate shift that brought warmer waters and reduced wind shear, the Atlantic has spawned unusual numbers of hurricanes for nine of the past eleven seasons.

Weather satellites make it easy for meteorologists to keep tabs on hurricanes. But ordinary satellite images show only the cloud tops. Spaceborne infrared sensors can reveal more detail, charting the size and shape of the warm eye, and satellite radar and microwave sensors can map the rain.

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