Hurricane Wilma Is Most Powerful Storm in Atlantic History

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"It's certainly the most dramatic strengthening I've ever seen," said Keith Blackwell, hurricane researcher at the University of South Alabama's Coastal Weather Research Center in Mobile.

Blackwell said Wilma's rapid intensification was caused by the warm waters of the northwest Caribbean, which have spawned other extremely powerful storms. Hurricane Wilma formed in the same area as Hurricane Mitch did in October 1998.

Storm-Weary Gulf Coast

Hurricane Wilma became only the latest unusual event in a season full of anomalies.

Two hurricanes that formed in July—Dennis and Emily—were the most intense on record for that month.

In August, Hurricane Katrina virtually destroyed New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Less than a month later Hurricane Rita became the third most powerful hurricane ever to form in the Atlantic before weakening and making landfall near the Texas-Louisiana border.

"There are so many astounding things about this season," Blackwell said.

In Florida, which was pounded by four intense hurricanes last summer, residents are becoming weary of the storms.

"Montana looks really good to me right now," joked Irene Toner, a director of the Monroe County Emergency Management Department.

Toner has had to order repeated evacuations of the low-lying islands, which are very vulnerable to hurricanes.

"We were on guard really since the last hurricane season," Toner said. "We were surprised that this season has been as busy as it has, but we were not overly shocked by that."

The hurricane season continues until November 30.

Willie Drye is author of Storm of the Century: the Labor Day hurricane of 1935, published by National Geographic Books.

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