William Gray, Phillip Klotzbach and their forecasters at Colorado State University have come out with their predictions for the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season which runs from June 1 to November 30. It’s expected to be active with three hurricanes becoming major Category 3 storms. In the press release they remark, “NOAA’s National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center says there is a 70 percent chance of having nine to 14 named storms, four to seven of which could become hurricanes, and one to three major hurricanes (winds 115mph or greater). If this comes to pass, these numbers would reflect an average number and intensity of tropical cyclones.”
Over the last years there have been extremely powerful hurricanes that have made landfall in the United States including Rita, Wilma and the apocalyptic Katrina which struck New Orleans during the deadly season of 2005. Hurricane Ivan was the strongest hurricane of the season in 2004. It wreaked havoc in the Caribbean and at one point was a Category 5 storm the size of Texas.
Correspondent Martin Savidge, the crew and I were dispatched to Key West, Florida to cover the storm for NBC News. Driving 100 miles out into the Gulf of Mexico there was great tension as the storm approached, even more so than in other storms I have chased. Traveling out to Key West that day I realized we were there to stay. Once the winds started howling and the water started rising there would be absolutely no way to get off the remote key. At one point forecasters predicted a direct hit on the low lying island. A bullseye would put Key West under water. When we checked into the hotel we had to sign a form saying we understood the risks and knew we were taking our lives in our own hands. Even for seasoned hurricane chasers there was a feeling of approaching danger. It rained like hell but at the end of the day Ivan skirted the island and saved its wrath for Gulf Shores, Alabama where it hit as a Category 3. Once the storm passed by Key West there was a palpable sense of relief on the island. Those who didn’t evacuate and hunkered down came out into the light and crowded into the bars. Key West, which was all boarded up, returned to its merry ways. I took this picture of a man who told me his name was Ca$h. To me he epitomized the care free ebullience that returned to Key West, Florida after it was spared by Hurricane Ivan. I have received more comments on this photo than any other I have taken. I smile whenever I think of Ca$h.