Not in the last century, since it was decided that the dead and detritus of every hurricane should be recorded, has there been such a disastrous barrage of wind and rain and saltwater on the Gulf Coast.

Twenty-two tropical storms and hurricanes in the past five months, the most ever in a single season. A tropical storm that formed Saturday in the Caribbean was dubbed Alpha because the last letter left in the tempest alphabet went to Hurricane Wilma.

The World Meteorological Organization, a United Nations agency responsible for christening these uncontrollable offspring of nature, had never before run out of names. Nom de storms now revert to the Greek alphabet for the rest of the season, which ends Nov. 30.

By July, one month into the season, there were already seven named storms – tropical storms Arlene, Brett and Cindy, hurricanes Dennis and Emily, and tropical storms Franklin and Gert.

The worst of that bunch was Dennis, which from Independence Day to July 12 battered coastal Alabama, the Florida Panhandle and many spots in the Caribbean with 150 mph wind. At least 32 people died. In Tallahassee, Fla., more than 7 inches of rain poured down in four days, more than a normal summer month’s worth.

After that beginning, the season got worse. Much worse.

The end of August brought Hurricane Katrina, whose damage statistics are still being tallied. The National Hurricane Center says Katrina may be the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States. It will take a very long time to decide that.

It started small – a tropical depression southeast of the Bahamas. Veering left and picking up speed, it made landfall as a Category 1, the weakest of all hurricane classifications, on the evening of Aug. 25, atop the Miami-Dade-Broward county line.

It dumped more than a foot of rain across Florida, knocking down trees and snapping power lines until it hit the gulf. And there it sat, feeding on the warm water, growing fatter and more powerful until it ballooned into an awesome and terrifying Category 5 headed for New Orleans.

After Katrina, it was hoped that was the end of death and destruction and rain and wind – for this season, least. But nature abhors a vacuum and doesn’t possess a conscience.

There was more. Five more. September brought hurricanes Maria, Nate, Ophelia, Philippe and Rita.

It was Rita that, for one breathtaking day threatened to wipe out Katrina’s record of destruction and the country’s fourth-largest city – Houston.

After it was decided, about a century ago, to officially document the death and destruction wrought by hurricanes, record-keepers came up with many kinds of ways to do so. There is a list of the 10 costliest hurricanes (ranked by damage figures). There is a list of the 10 deadliest hurricanes (ranked by lives lost).

On the former, Hurricane Andrew of 1992 occupies the No. 1 spot, with $26.5 billion in monetary losses. On the latter list, Galveston’s 1900 storm is at the top.

Last year’s quartet of hurricanes that terrorized Florida – Charley, Ivan, Frances and Jeanne – rank second, third, fourth and sixth, respectively, with damages ranging from $15 billion to $6.9 billion.


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