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The 2005 Atlantic Hurricane Season, Fifteen Years Later

Monday, June 8, 2020

The incredible 2005 Atlantic hurricane season smashed many long-standing records. Some of the words used to describe it included, “historical,” “unprecedented,” and “record-breaking.”

  

"This hurricane season shattered records that have stood for decades—the most named storms, most hurricanes, and most category five storms,” said then-NOAA administrator, retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr., Ph.D. “Arguably, it was the most devastating hurricane season the country has experienced in modern times.”

Indeed, when the season finally wrapped up (with Tropical Storm Zeta, which dissipated in January 2006), the records were staggering:

  • Most active Atlantic hurricane season on record, with 28 storms—including 27 named tropical storms and one subtropical storm.
  • Most hurricanes (15) in one season, breaking the record of 12 set in 1969.
  • Most major hurricanes (Category-3 or higher) in a season (seven). This included the first time that four Category-5 hurricanes were recorded in a single Atlantic season and the first time that four major hurricanes hit the United States in one season.
  • Lowest minimum central pressure ever observed in an Atlantic hurricane (882 mb.) from Hurricane Wilma.
  • Costliest United States hurricane season up to that time, with total U.S. property damage estimated at more than $100 billion.
  • Five hurricane names retired—Dennis, Katrina, Rita, Stan and Wilma. This is the most of any Atlantic hurricane season, besting the four retired names of 2004, 2017, and other years.
     Storm tracks of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season.

The Season, in Brief

The 2005 Atlantic hurricane season started on June 8, with Tropical Storm Arlene, and then things ramped up quickly. The first hurricane of the season was Cindy, which got its start on July 3, followed by Dennis on July 4, and then Emily on July 11. Both Dennis and Emily became major hurricanes, with Dennis being the first hurricane of the season to hit Category-5 status.

From there, the devastating season eventually produced Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma, all hitting Category-5 at some point. After Wilma, the official Atlantic hurricane list for 2005 ran out of names, so forecasters started using the Greek alphabet as six more storms (Alpha thought Zeta) rounded out the unprecedented season.

For a more in-depth look at the remarkable and devastating 2005 Atlantic hurricane season, check out this summary from NOAA’s National Hurricane Center.

A Few Satellite Standouts from 2005

Hurricane Katrina

Infrared satellite loop from NOAA’s GOES-12 satellite, Aug 27-29, 2005.

Hurricane Rita

Infrared satellite loop from NOAA’s GOES-12 satellite, Sep 19-24, 2005.

Hurricane Wilma

Infrared satellite loop from NOAA’s GOES-12 satellite, Oct. 23-25, 2005.

 

What Has Changed in 15 Years

Since 2005, a new generation of geostationary and polar-orbiting satellites has provided NOAA with state-of-the-art data and imagery for tropical storms and hurricanes.

Coverage area of NOAA’s GOES satellites

Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES)

NOAA’s GOES-16 (East) and GOES-17 (West) satellites continuously view the entire Atlantic and eastern/central Pacific hurricane basins 24 hours a day. Both satellites carry sophisticated instruments that provide new and dramatically improved capabilities for forecasting, tracking and monitoring hurricanes, as well as the environmental conditions that form them.

The GOES Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) instrument has channels not available from previous GOES satellites. The ABI is able to scan a targeted area of interest as often as every 30 seconds, providing unprecedented real-time monitoring of a tropical system from space.

Faster image frequency allows forecasters to better discern the movement of cloud features and provides greater confidence in estimating the center of the storm and its wind speeds. New infrared channels on ABI also help forecasters determine how cold cloud tops are and how rapidly they are cooling, which aids predictions for rainfall intensity and potential flash flooding associated with hurricane rain bands.

A rendering of NOAA’s JPSS satellite, NOAA-20

Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS)

NOAA’s JPSS satellites (NOAA-20 and the NOAA/NASA Suomi-NPP satellite) circle the Earth’s poles fourteen times a day. NOAA's National Weather Service uses JPSS data as a critical input for numerical forecast models, providing the basis for essential, mid-range (3- to 7-day) forecasts. These forecasts allow for early warnings and enable emergency managers to make timely decisions to protect American lives and property, including ordering effective evacuation during tropical systems.

During a hurricane or tropical storm, instruments on NOAA-20 and Suomi-NPP capture data from the storm twice a day. The Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder (ATMS) sensor provides temperature and water vapor measurements with greater accuracy than earlier satellite instruments—data that is essential for predicting how strong a tropical system could become.

The JPSS Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument has a Day-Night band that allows forecasters to better monitor and track hurricanes at night, when visible imagery is limited. VIIRS also helps determine areas of infrastructure damage and power outages after a tropical storm or hurricane makes landfall.

Satellite loop of Tropical Storm Arthur from NOAA’s GOES-16 satellite, May 17, 2020

New in 2020

Hurricane forecasting got an upgrade this year, thanks to new satellite data. For the first time, data from GOES-16 and GOES-17 are being fed into NOAA’s Hurricane Weather Research and Forecasting (HWRF) computer model, which forecasters use to predict the track and intensity of tropical cyclones.

The HWRF model is the operational backbone for hurricane track and intensity forecasts by NOAA’s National Hurricane Center (NHC). The model uses data from satellites, aircraft and radar. This year, high-resolution wind data in, and around, hurricanes from the GOES satellites are included in the model, which is crucial to predicting future storm motion and intensity.

Also in 2020, the new Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere and Climate (COSMIC-2) fleet of satellites, launched in June 2019, has begun daily measurements of atmospheric temperature and humidity in the tropics and subtropics into hurricane forecast models. Measuring the moisture in and around tropical cyclones is important because it is a key ingredient for their development and intensification.

“New satellite observations feeding into our weather forecast models will enhance our predictive capabilities for tropical storms and hurricanes," said Louis W. Uccellini, Ph.D, director, NOAA’s National Weather Service. “High-resolution wind vector data along with moisture measurements will give us more and better information about the conditions that strengthen or weaken these storms.”

For the latest information and updates during the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, go to www.hurricanes.gov, or follow NOAA’s National Hurricane Center on Twitter, @NHC_Atlantic.