Hurricane Season: What's In Store for 2006?

The busiest and costliest hurricane season on record officially ends Wednesday. Steve Inskeep talks to James Elsner, professor of geography at Florida State University, about what we can expect for next year.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The hurricane season officially ends today and here are the voices of some of the people affected by the busiest and costliest hurricane season on record.

Unidentified Woman: Oh, Daddy, look at the tree.

Unidentified Man #1: Oo, Lord, that tree gone.

Unidentified Woman: This is my shop, this is my awning, that's our car.

Unidentified Man #2: The waters of the Mississippi and the Lake Pontchartrain was washed up, put everything on the banks of the city and said, `Here are the things that you wouldn't deal with, so deal with them now.

INSKEEP: Total insured losses from hurricanes this year were put at more than $47 billion. That is well above the previous record, about double in fact. To talk about what to expect for the next hurricane season, we turn now to James Elsner. He's a professor at Florida State University. He studies historical patterns of hurricane activity.

Good morning.

Professor JAMES ELSNER (Florida State University): Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Is it too early to say something about next hurricane season?

Prof. ELSNER: I don't think so. I think the waters in the Atlantic have been very warm and I think that warmth is going to continue into 2006.

INSKEEP: That means more storms?

Prof. ELSNER: Well, it generally means that the basin is going to ripe for storms to develop into hurricanes, yes.

INSKEEP: Is there a historical oscillation here, some decades it goes up, some decades it goes down?

Prof. ELSNER: That's correct. We saw a lot of warmth in the '40s and '50s and we also saw lots of hurricanes during that period. Starting at about 1995, we saw the warmth return, and since that time, we've seen lots more hurricanes.

INSKEEP: Does that mean that next hurricane season could be as bad or even worse as this one?

Prof. ELSNER: One of the factors one has to consider is the fact that oftentimes these storms stay out at sea. What we saw in the last couple of years is these storms moving toward the United States. So whether we get lots of storms moving toward the United States in 2006 is still an open question.

INSKEEP: Is that completely random?

Prof. ELSNER: Not completely random. I see some patterns that are developing that make it likely that we will see more US hurricanes in 2006 like we did in 2003 and 2004.

INSKEEP: Well, that raises a serious question. There are people along the Gulf Coast asking themselves: Should I rebuild? Should I rebuild now? How strong do the levees have to be around New Orleans before I return? What kind of advice would you give them as you consider next hurricane season?

Prof. ELSNER: Certainly people have to be aware that hurricanes happen and they can come in bunches and they can be very strong.

INSKEEP: What should people do?

Prof. ELSNER: Well, they should be prepared. I think everyone should have an individual plan for evacuation, for preparation and heed the government warnings when they come. These forecasts are very accurate now, oftentimes very accurate, and people just need to be paying attention.

INSKEEP: Well, Professor Elsner, thanks very much.

Prof. ELSNER: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: James Elsner is a professor of geography at Florida State University.

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