Finishing off one of the most active years in history for tropical storms and hurricanes, Tropical Storm Zeta formed Friday in the eastern Atlantic. Experts believe the storm will pose no threat and will soon dissipate. But it is a reminder that nature follows its own schedule.
The official hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30, so what is Zeta doing out there in the Atlantic in the final hours of 2005? In a VOA interview, Chris Vaccaro of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says such late storms are unusual, but not unheard of. "Tropical Storm Zeta, which formed this morning, is certainly a rare case, although we have seen, as far back as 1886, nine tropical systems form in the month of December. Of those nine, six were tropical storms, and this does include Zeta, and three were hurricanes," he said.
As for the season that scientists and weather watchers follow so closely every year, Mr. Vaccaro says that is only a guide based on what has been observed over the past century-and-a-half. "The majority of tropical storms and hurricanes form between June first and November 30 and that is why those dates are the beginning and end points for the official hurricane season. However, we have seen in the past that hurricanes and tropical storms can form before June first and we have seen them form after November 30. We have had as many as two form in the month of December. In the same year, 2003, where we had two storms in December, we also had the first storm, tropical storm Anna, form in the month of April," he said.
As for Zeta, Mr. Vaccaro says not much is expected. "Zeta could strengthen a little bit in the next day or two, but it is forecast to wind down to a remnant low or even dissipate by Sunday or Monday morning," he said.
Zeta is the 27th storm to form this year in the Atlantic and it caps off a record year for such storms. Zeta is the sixth letter of the Greek alphabet, which has been used to identify storms since forecasters ran out of names on this year's official list of 21. That number was based on the most active previous year, 1933, when there were 21 storms. This is the first time that number has been exceeded in 154 years of record keeping.
Fourteen of this year's tropical storms turned into hurricanes, when their winds exceeded 118 kilometers per hour. In late August, Hurricane Katrina devastated large areas of Louisiana and Mississippi and was responsible for the flooding of New Orleans. In September, Hurricane Rita swept to the west of that area, causing renewed flooding in New Orleans and destroying homes, offices and infrastructure in western Louisiana and eastern Texas. Hurricanes Dennis, Rita and Wilma also caused major damage in both the United States and in parts of the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America.