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Giving thanks to the Hurricane Hunters and QuikSCAT scientists

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 7:54 PM GMT on November 21, 2007

Everyone knows that flying into hurricanes is dangerous work. The NOAA Hurricane Hunter aircraft have flown a number of dangerous flights over the years, most recently in Hurricane Felix on September 2 this year. NOAA P-3 aircraft N42RF (affectionately called Kermit), penetrated a rapidly intensifying Hurricane Felix as it approached Category 5 intensity. The aircraft hit four G's of acceleration in both the up and down directions in Felix's eyewall. Regulations require a flight to be aborted at that level of turbulence, and Kermit returned to base. A detailed inspection of the aircraft the next day revealed no damage, and Kermit returned to service for the remainder of hurricane season.

Figure 1. A NOAA P-3 refuels in Cold Bay, Alaska (left) on its way to the Aleutian Islands to fly a mission in the 1987 Alaska Storms Program. Right: The two NOAA P-3's get de-iced at Brunswick Naval Air Station, Maine, as they prepare for a mission into a 'Noreaster during the Experiment on Rapidly Intensifying Cyclones over the Atlantic (ERICA) in 1989. Both photos taken by yours truly.

What is less appreciated is that these aircraft fly research missions into dangerous weather conditions year-round and world-wide, and some of the most dangerous flights have occurred far from the tropics. Earlier this year, Kermit experienced perhaps the most dangerous flight of its 31-year career. On February 9, the aircraft flew into an intense winter storm 500 miles east of Newfoundland. The mission was part of the Ocean Winds project, a study designed to test the accuracy of QuikSCAT satellite wind estimates in regions of high wind and heavy rain. Flying at 3,000 feet, the aircraft sampled the surface winds with its SFMR (Step Frequency Microwave Radiometer) and dropsondes. The flights were timed to coincide with an overhead pass of the QuikSCAT satellite, which also measured winds at the ocean surface. It was a bit of a rough ride, since the storm packed winds of 100-110 mph at flight level. Sea spray kicked up by the powerful winds reached all the way to flight level, coating the windshield with a thick white coating of salt. The windshield washer failed, leaving the windshield partially opaque. It was an unusually dry winter storm, and the rain showers needed to rinse the windshield clean were difficult to find.

Figure 2. QuikSCAT wind profile of the ocean surface at 21:22 GMT February 9, 2007, just before Kermit headed back to St. John's, Newfoundland.

After a successful 4-hour flight, the aircraft dropped its final dropsonde, and turned north to complete its final sampling run. Suddenly, crew members observed flames coming from the #3 engine, accompanied by an audible popping sound. "Fire on #3, flames, flames, flames!" came the cry over the on-board intercom system. The pilots and flight engineers immediately began an emergency shut down of the #3 engine. As they worked to shut down the engine, the ominous call, "Fire on #4!" came over the intercom. The pilot immediately began an emergency shut down of the #4 engine. With both engines on the right wing now shut down, the pilot cautiously ramped up power on the two engines on the left wing, turned the aircraft towards home base in St. Johns, Newfoundland, and attempted to climb. However, the aircraft was not able to climb on just two engines, and the pilot was forced to begin a gradual descent to 2600 feet. The pilot notified the crew to review their ditching placards, and word was send to air traffic control informing them of the emergency. Three tense minutes passed, as the crew attempted to figure out what had caused the multiple engine failures. Speculation centered on the unusually heavy accumulation of salt on the aircraft--but excessive salt had never been implicated in engine failures before. Then, the words they all dreaded, "Fire on #1!" burst out over the intercom. The flight engineer immediately pulled the emergency shutdown handle for the #1 engine, and Kermit began a 700 foot per minute descent towards the turbulent sea below.

The crew donned survival suits as the pilot issued a May-day distress call and prepared to ditch the aircraft. Beneath them, hurricane force winds blew over the night-shrouded North Atlantic waters. With waves easily reaching 20 feet, water temperatures near freezing, and 500 miles out at sea at night, prospects for survival were dim. Four minutes remained to restart one of the flamed-out engines, and the pilot called for an immediate restart of the #1 engine. As the flight engineer worked to comply, Kermit passed through a brief rain shower that washed considerable salt from the aircraft. The attempt to restart the #1 engine succeeded, and Kermit pulled out of its descent just 800 feet above the waves--one minute from impact.

The crew now worked to restart the failed #3 and #4 engines, while the plane slowly climbed away from the ocean surface. As they headed towards Newfoundland, the Canadian Air Force launched a search and rescue C-130 aircraft from Nova Scotia to intercept Kermit. Crews on the Hibernia and Terra Nova oil rigs located east of Newfoundland were alerted of the emergency, and stood by to help if necessary. Kermit's navigator continuously plotted vectors to the oil rigs at they flew home, in case a ditch near one of the rigs became necessary.

As they continued westward, the crew successfully restarted both the #3 and #4 engines, but at reduced power. Kermit climbed to a more comfortable altitude of 14,000 feet and made it uneventfully back to St. Johns. Fortunately, the engines were undamaged and perfectly operational after the salt was washed out, and the data collected during the mission was saved. According to the detailed NOAA Mishap Investigation Report posted on Chris Mooney's excellent blog, "Post flight inspection of engines revealed significant white build up on intakes, first stage compressors, and CIP probes of all four engines. Subjectively, the #2 engine appeared to be the worst coated of all engines. Aircraft fuselage and windows were also heavily coated." Salt build-up on the engines was determined to be the cause of the incident. The unusually dry nature of the storm prevented the salt from being washed off, and was probably part of the reason the engines failed on this flight, and not on previous flights.

I asked Dr. Jim McFadden, project manager of the Ocean Winds project, what happened. He was on the flight, and responded:

This event stumped everyone including the experts who spend a life-time studying sea salt and aerosols in the marine boundary layer. Six previous flights in similar conditions had resulted in nothing like this. But this one was different. It was flown over an ocean warmed by the Gulf Stream in a dry slot of cold Canadian air. Somehow that combination was the key to what could have been a disastrous flight. Fortunately, quick thinking and the flawless action of the crew brought about by excellent training got us home safely.

Last week in Washington D.C., the crew of Kermit was honored with the Department of Commerce's Gold Medal for successfully bringing home the aircraft. The crew members from NOAA's Aircraft Operations Center who were on the flight were:

LCDR Mark Nelson
LCDR Carl Newman
Joseph Klippel
LCDR Peter Siegel
LCDR Joseph Bishop
Tom Shepherd
James Barr
Terry Lynch
William Olney
James McFadden

QuikSCAT scientists Paul Chang and Rob Contreras were also present on the flight.

Separate Department of Commerce Gold and Silver Medals were also awarded last week for scientists involved in leading NOAA's operational use of NASA's QuikSCAT satellite to produce more accurate forecasts and warnings of marine and coastal weather:

Paul Chang
Hugh Cobb III (NWS)
Roger Edson (NWS)
James Franklin (NHC)
Richard Knabb (NHC)
Eugene Legg
Kevin Schrab (NWS)
Joseph Sienkiewicz (NWS)

A Gold Medal is defined as distinguished performance characterized by extraordinary, notable or prestigious contributions that impact the mission of the Department and/or one operating unit and which reflect favorably on the Department. Congratulations to all the awardees, and thanks for all that you do!

Jeff Masters

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

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105. Patrap
7:41 AM CST on November 23, 2007

Area forecast discussion
National Weather Service New Orleans la
443 am CST Friday Nov 23 2007

Short term...
upper level shear feature that was in the El Paso area yesterday
morning is now moving over central Louisiana into southwest
Mississippi. Some very light rain and perhaps a few sleet pellets
falling over central Louisiana...but much of radar returns is
virga in bright band layer. This feature is moving into convergent
flow aloft and should be east of the forecast area by this
afternoon. Will make only subtle mention of rain as no measurable
amounts are expected.

Long term...
the main concern continues to be the isentropic lift to get
underway with deep troughing over the southwest U.S. Progressing
across Texas Saturday. 295k Theta surface shows saturation as
early as Saturday afternoon with predominantly stratiform
rainfall. Elevated convection will eventually move into the area
off the Gulf late Saturday night into Sunday morning as warm
frontogenesis takes place from developing low pressure in the west
Gulf. This low will likely move into Louisiana probably just west
of the Atchafalaya basin...placing the bulk of the warm sector
over southeast Louisiana and coastal Mississippi late Sunday
afternoon and evening. Convection should then become surface based
with warm surface dewpoints advecting northward on 35-40kt low
level jet steak. A squall line is still expected to develop to the
west of the forecast area by sunset Sunday and move rapidly
eastward...probably clearing the Mississippi coastal counties by
09z Monday. The best shear and highest helicities...in the 400
range... should be Saturday night along the warm front but
convection may have difficult time punching down through relatively
stable surface layer. This would then lead to a lower shear
environment but better instability Sunday evening conducive for
Bow echoes and perhaps a few rogue supercells mainly east of the
I-55 corridor and particularly across the Mississippi coastal
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104. salter
8:16 AM EST on November 23, 2007
Hey PHILLESROCK put up a link for that GFS for sleet in Tampa would you please thaxs
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103. philliesrock
7:58 AM EST on November 23, 2007
This GFS meteogram calls for sleet in Tampa:

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102. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
4:58 AM GMT on November 23, 2007

Tropical Cyclone Bulletin #9
Typhoon "MINA" has gained more strength and endangers the Bicol region.

Maximum sustained winds is 95 knots with gusts up to 115 knots.

Signal Warnings
Signal #3 (100-185 km/h)

1.Luzon Region
d.Burias Island
e.Camarines Sur
f.Camarines Norte

Signal #2 (60-100 km/h)

1 Luzon Region
a.Southern Quezon
b.Polillo Island

2.Visayas Region
a.Northern Samar

Signal #1 (30-60 km/h)

1.Luzon Region
d.Rest of Quezon
f.Oriental Mindoro
g.Occidental Mindoro
h.Calamian Group of Islands

2.Visayas Region
a.Western Samar
b.Eastern Samar
c.Biliran Island
f.Northern part of Leyte

3.Mindanao Region
a.No signals raised.
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4:29 AM GMT on November 23, 2007
Happy Thanksgiving to all that roam the blogs
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100. H2PV
3:19 AM GMT on November 23, 2007
Hmmm, What does this remind you of? ...

Oh, I know, October 1, 2007... Lekima...

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99. Hurricaneblast
2:35 AM GMT on November 23, 2007
hi hades, looks like we're having another repeat of last years late season Philippean typhoon bashing
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98. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
2:29 AM GMT on November 23, 2007

all eyes on this invest to become a typhoon just like Mitag has done.
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97. Hurricaneblast
2:26 AM GMT on November 23, 2007
CMC shows Hagibis, Mitang, and another storm forecasted to develop in about 60hrs, wandering around the Philippines for at least another week

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96. Weather456
9:57 PM AST on November 22, 2007
The Cold front shows up well on infrared imagery

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95. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
1:27 AM GMT on November 23, 2007
you'll notice that Palawan and Luzon region of the Philippines is alerted again in the storm's outlook path.
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94. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
1:25 AM GMT on November 23, 2007

Hagibis backtracking towards Philippines again?!
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93. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
12:52 AM GMT on November 23, 2007

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92. Weather456
8:39 PM AST on November 22, 2007

As a tropical wave clears the area, some leftover moisture and convergence with the help of the ITCZ will produce scattered showers over Central America and the Caribbean Sea south of 17N. Fair to partly cloudy skies elsewhere.

A upper trough associated with the occluded low is digging over the Central Atlantic and is enhancing confluent flow over the Northeast Caribbean. Fair weather with little or precipitation is a result of this dry and stable flow. Easterly trades are steadily increasing south of a building ridge north of the area. Seas have increase to 4-5 ft east of 70W and have remained near 10 ft between 70W and Central America.

by W456
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91. Weather456
7:27 PM AST on November 22, 2007


Interesting and cold thanksgiving weather across the Southern Rockies this evening. An upper level trough stretches down from Canada, east of Rockies and basing off near the Mexico/New Mexico/Texas border. The associated surface cold-core high pressure system has settled over the area, centered on a 1035 mb high near 34N/94W. The leading edge of this cold airmass is marked by a pronounce cold front stretching from the Eastern Slopes of the Sierra Madre over Northeast Mexico, across the Northwest Gulf and the Southeast United States. This cold front was a noticeable one with temperatures dropping down to the low 40s and upper 30S. Some stations go down as far as 29F. Most of the stations over Northeast Texas are even reporting snow.

The cold front is pushing southeastward across Northwest Gulf and Southeast United States with scattered low clouds and showers. Cold air coastal fog extends from the slopes of the Sierra Madre across the Northwest Corner of the Gulf.

An upper ridge has its axis extending from the Northern Coast of Venezuela to the Florida Peninsula. High level winds are advecting mid-upper high clouds ahead of the front over the Atlantic west of 75W. Meanwhile, the surface weather and pressure patterns over the Southwest Atlantic have remain unchanged over the past 48 hrs. A high pressure system is centered near 30N/70W providing fair weather over most parts. A 999 mb vertically-stacked occluded low pressure system is centered near 33N/51W. The pressure gradient continue to cause north to northwest gale force winds and seas between 60W and 45W north of 20N.

by W456
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90. H2PV
12:17 AM GMT on November 23, 2007
Forecast for Anchorage and Vicinity Current Conditions in Anchorage

500 AM AST THU NOV 22 2007

...High wind warning remains in effect until 9 pm ast this evening along turnagain arm and higher elevations...

Today... Mostly cloudy. Occasional rain in the morning...then a chance of rain in the afternoon. Highs in the 40s. Northeast wind 15 mph with gusts to around 30 mph except east wind increasing to 40 to 60 mph with gusts to 80 mph along turnagain arm and higher elevations.


10 to 15 inches of cumulative rainfall this storm...

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89. weatherboyfsu
9:57 PM GMT on November 22, 2007
Good Afternoon,

I wanted to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving!
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87. 786
8:08 PM GMT on November 22, 2007
Hello, just checking in. Happy Thanksgiving...man we thought we had a rough hurricane season, its one after the other so far for Asia. India got a pounding and no in the cone of uncertainty again!!!!

Well I must say that we have gotten stronger winds this past week than we did the whole hurricane season. Nor'Easters can be pretty rough too!!
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86. zoomiami
6:34 PM GMT on November 22, 2007
Happy Thanksgiving to all, may your day be blessed, and remberance to our troops serving far from home.

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85. Hurricaneblast
5:18 PM GMT on November 22, 2007
egg-shaped eye of Category 2 Typhoon Mitang (Mina)
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84. Patrap
11:04 AM CST on November 22, 2007
Kermit's Cockpit

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83. Patrap
11:02 AM CST on November 22, 2007
The Planes Storm History

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82. Patrap
11:02 AM CST on November 22, 2007
The Public touring Kermit

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81. ESAsurfphotog
4:59 PM GMT on November 22, 2007
I like the part where it says:

"Last week in Washington D.C., the crew of Kermit was honored with the Department of Commerce's Gold Medal for successfully bringing home the aircraft."

The efforts of the crew are highly honorable, but "successfully bringing home the aircraft" was their only way to survive the event.

My heart goes out to the storm chasers. That is a job I would not be able to do.
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79. surfmom
4:24 PM GMT on November 22, 2007
Great Picture Aussie Storm, have a friend riding out the typhoon in the Philippines right now.

Just got in from a nice surf this thanksgiving morning. It was great from 7:00AM - 10:15. Waist high swell, south facing beaches SRQ Gomex - Should have a bigger north facing swell tomorrow/friday when the cold front drops down.
Gulf is 69 degrees, wetsuit time!
Wishing all my friends here a Happy thanksgiving, special thanks to StormW, Patrap, Bonedog, Floodman, and all the other dudes who look out for us and the better good of all!!!!!
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78. moonlightcowboy
3:16 PM GMT on November 22, 2007
Happy Thanksgiving, Doctor Masters and all!

That was an INCREDIBLE story of Kermit and Crew! Thanks for the post. These folks do some wonderful things for all of us, and I for one, am very grateful.

From the first Thanksgiving to now,
we've many things to be very grateful!
It is my wish that each of you get
a moment for reflection to remember
the many blessings in our lives.

My best to you and yours for a
safe, festive and rewarding holiday!

(psssssst: eat good, nap better! lol)

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77. Patrap
8:46 AM CST on November 22, 2007
Have a Wonderful Thanksgiving wunderground, and Be Safe. Pat,Teresa and Family here!
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76. AussieStorm
2:39 PM GMT on November 22, 2007
Dual Typhoons

I hope Mitag's track doesn't move any further south or My family and friends will be in its path. I put them on alert a day before the local authorities did thanks to this site. Cheers AussieStorm
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73. salter
8:54 AM EST on November 22, 2007
Happy Turkeyday everyone, morning Storm w.
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69. extreme236
12:36 PM GMT on November 22, 2007
Happy Thanksgiving!
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68. Weather456
6:55 AM AST on November 22, 2007
Have a happy thanksgiving everybody!

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67. extreme236
3:27 AM GMT on November 22, 2007
Good night all! It will be interesting to see how strong the following storms are in the morning:

-And to see if anything happened with Ariel
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66. extreme236
3:26 AM GMT on November 22, 2007
Pressure has been falling slowly but wind shear is too strong for the convection to organize. The system seemed to look linear when I last saw it.
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65. extreme236
3:25 AM GMT on November 22, 2007
Tropical Disturbance Summary For area Equator to 25S, 160E to 120W



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64. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
2:54 AM GMT on November 22, 2007
Tropical Depression 02F is still at a stage where the RSMC Nadi are just releasing Tropical Disturbance Summaries. The summaries are just issued two times a day (0900z and 2100z)

If TD 02F reaches 30 knots maximum sustained winds is when normal tropical disturbance advisories are issued.
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63. BtnTx
8:53 PM CST on November 21, 2007
62. MichaelSTL 8:47 PM CST on November 21, 2007

looks like wild images intended for druggies!
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61. Hurricaneblast
2:43 AM GMT on November 22, 2007
karen was a hurricane. you can see in the middle of the past track there are two hurricane symbols. These images contain the best track locations for previous storm centers.

the image below shows the track of karen as was given by the nhc advisories. you can see that this track is less streamline in the earlier portion than the track above.
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60. BtnTx
8:39 PM CST on November 21, 2007
Storms have left here and are heading towards Patrap's area
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59. extreme236
2:37 AM GMT on November 22, 2007
I guess so...they seem to have taken some interest into Ariel but not the best chance of something forming. Something to watch though as the remnants of the cyclone have been quite persistant. Also I see TD 2F advisories seem to have been ceased as well. Mitag and Hagibis are quite strong now as well, classified as typhoons by the JTWC and JMA.
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58. BtnTx
8:32 PM CST on November 21, 2007
Temperature outside seems to have gone down 10 degrees here in the last hour. Nearest WU station seems to not have survived the storm.
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57. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
2:28 AM GMT on November 22, 2007
ah they just released that outlook, heh
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56. extreme236
2:24 AM GMT on November 22, 2007
From Perth...looks like Ariel might be coming back:

Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology
Western Australia

Issued at 11:06am WDT on Thursday the 22nd of November 2007
For the area between LONGITUDES 90 - 110 EAST

Tropical Low [ex-TC Lee-Ariel]
Location :near 12S 90.8E
about 650 kilometres [350 nautical miles] west of Cocos Islands
Central Pressure :1004hPa
Recent movement : slow moving

Friday : moderate
Saturday : moderate
Sunday : moderate

REMARKS - The low has shown indications of some development overnight and while
guidance suggests it is unlikely to develop further into a tropical cyclone, it
should not be ruled out altogether. The low has drifted to the northeast in the
past 24 hours but may commence a more northwest track and move out of the region
in the next few days.

** NOTE: Development potential is an estimate of the probability of **
** tropical cyclone development within a 24 hour period. **
** LOW = 10% or less MODERATE = 20-40% HIGH = 50% or more **
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55. extreme236
2:12 AM GMT on November 22, 2007
Well it appears that the hurricane season is likely over. As Dr. M said before, maybe a storm in the mid-atlantic is possible but that chance isnt terribly high. This hurricane season has been one full of surprises and several interesting moments. It has had a few record breaking storms, and unfortunatly a deadly one for Central America, Mexico, and Hispanola. The US got lucky this year with the exception of Humberto (According from the TC report going from depression to 90mph cat 1 in 19 hours from its formation at 0900UTC to landfall at 0400UTC). It will definatly be interesting to see what next year brings. Unfortunatly I find it unlikely that the US will be as fortunate next year. Also hopefully Mexico and Central America will get a better year.

My forecast months ago was 14-16 Named Storms

Total cyclones: 16
Named Storms: 14
Hurricanes: 5 (Perhaps 6 with Karen)
Strongest Storm: Hurricane Dean (165 mph/906 pressure)

I will be soon updating my blog with info on each system this year. If any new cyclones were to form, I will then update that as well.
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