Hurricane season 1999 set records, took lives and, according to forecasters, gave a glimpse of what's to come. For the first time in recorded history, there were five major hurricanes in one season, all carrying sustained winds of at least 140 miles per hour.
They were powerful storms with mild names like Bret, Cindy, Gert and Lenny. But the worst of the bunch, the one that killed the most and destroyed the most, was Hurrricane Floyd, a ten day, six billion dollar nightmare that made landfall in eastern North Carolina before churning north, dumping rain that inundated towns more than 100 miles inland and as far north as New Jersey.
Seventy deaths are blamed on Floyd, the highest total since Hurricane Agnes in 1972. Nearly 40 thousand homes in 12 states were damaged or destroyed.
"The one lesson learned this year is that a hurricane's not just a coastal event," said Max Mayfield of the National Hurricane Center. "What this season will be remembered for is the inland flooding.Â"
Dr. John Kelly, Director of the National Weather Service , agrees. Â"The story's not so much in the numbers of hurricanes, and not in the intensity of the winds that accompanied the hurricanes, but in the tremendous amounts of rain and tremendous amounts of inland flooding,Â" he said.
At today's news conference in Washington marking the end of the hurricane season, experts said that although "inland flooding" may have been the legacy of 1999, it was the newly exposed danger in Â"antiquated evacuation plansÂ" that may be one its greatest lessons. Motorists were stranded for hours during several evacuations this season. Delays that could cost lives in the future.
Â"Can you imagine the devastation of a major hurricane?Â" asks Jerry Jarrell, Director of the National Hurricane Center. Â"Tumbling, gridlocked automobiles, along and off flooded highways.Â"
In a season when so much went wrong, the nationÂ's leading expert on hurricanes, Dr. William Gray of Colorado State University, got it right. He predicted an active hurricane season for 1999 and believes next year will be a bit milder. Â"Perhaps not the blockbuster we've had in '98 and '99, and earlier in '95 and '96, but still a reasonably active year,Â" Dr. Gray said.
But Dr. Gray calls it Â"a brief reprieveÂ" from what he foresees as a long stretch of hurricane seasons of historic strength, bringing storms of a size and ferocity no oneÂ's seen in 30 to 100 years. Â"We're likely to see hurricane damage like we've never previously seen,Â" he said.
In the end, Hurricane season 1999 may simply have been a dress rehearsal -- for even deadlier seasons to come.