2004 Hurricane Season May Be Costliest on Record

Willie Drye
for National Geographic News
September 27, 2004

Hurricane Jeanne became the fourth in a series of powerful hurricanes to slam into Florida in two months, making landfall late Saturday night. With peak winds of 120 miles an hour (190 kilometers an hour) Jeanne hit at almost the exact spot where Hurricane Frances came ashore only three weeks ago.

Authorities reported Sunday that three people died during the latest storm, which made landfall at South Hutchinson Island, a barrier island on Florida's east coast about 40 miles (about 65 kilometers) north of West Palm Beach.

Jeanne had amassed a staggering toll before striking Florida. The storm killed more than 1,600 in Haiti, wandered aimlessly east of the Bahamas for a few days, and then took aim at Florida.

As of 5 a.m. today, Jeanne had weakened to a tropical storm and was about to cross the Florida-Georgia border with winds of 50 miles an hour (80 kilometers an hour). It is expected to continue weakening as it moves up the coast before going back to sea Wednesday near Norfolk, Virginia.

As Hurricane Jeanne approached, Florida residents were still numb from the near-constant pounding of hurricanes this summer. "Folks are still shell-shocked," Vero Beach resident Sheila Granger said Saturday shortly before Jeanne made landfall about 30 miles (about 50 kilometers) south of her. "Most folks were barely getting over the last one. It seems like (Jeanne) kind of snuck up on us. We thought we were out of it. Now we're back on the bull's-eye."

Many Floridians were too weary to make much of a response to warnings about Hurricane Jeanne.

"This time, there was no prestorm buying frenzy," Tampa resident Alan Snel said. "People are so fed up with the hurricanes that there was a here-we-go-again attitude."

In Florida, Jeanne was rated a Category Three on the Saffir-Simpson scale, which ranks hurricanes from One to Five, according to their wind speeds and destructive potential. A Category Three hurricane has winds of 111 to 130 miles an hour (178 to 209 kilometers an hour).

Treasure Coast

Hurricanes Jeanne and Frances devastated a stretch of Florida known as the Treasure Coast. The name comes from a hurricane that struck the area in 1715, wrecking a fleet of Spanish treasure ships en route from Havana to Spain. The storm killed hundreds and spilled hundreds of millions of dollar's worth of gold along a stretch of coastline from Cape Canaveral to Stuart.

That long-lost treasure would hardly begin to pay for the billions of dollars in damage inflicted on Florida during this violent and bizarre hurricane season, which still has more than two months to go. The last time so many storms struck the same state in one season was 1886, when Texas took four direct hits from hurricanes.

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