The Middle Atlantic States are at Great Risk for a Major Hurricane in 2009

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The peak of hurricane season is here, and although things have been quiet in the Atlantic basin, the situation will likely change within the next few weeks. The East Coast of the United States, and especially the Middle Atlantic states, remains overdue for a major (Category 3 or stronger) hurricane strike. This news release discusses the threat.

With the peak of hurricane season rapidly approaching, why should residents of the Middle Atlantic states be concerned about hurricanes?

After all, the big ones don't seem to affect the region anymore.

Consider the following: The last Category 2 hurricane to make landfall along the U.S. East Coast, north of Florida, was Isabel in 2003. The last Category 3 was Fran in 1996, and the last Category 4 was Hugo in 1989. Meanwhile, ten Category 2 or stronger storms made landfall along the Gulf Coast between 2004 and 2008.

"The region can only beat the odds for so long," said Rick Schwartz, author of the book, Hurricanes and the Middle Atlantic States. "Hurricane history suggests that the Mid-Atlantic's seeming immunity will change as soon as 2009. Hurricane Alley shifts. A modest drift to the east of the Gulf Coast activity would likely send hurricanes storming up the Eastern Seaboard."

Past active hurricane cycles, typically lasting 25 to 30 years, have brought many destructive storms to the region, particularly to shore areas.

Never before have so many people and so much property been at risk. Extensive coastal development and a rising sea make for increased vulnerability. A storm like the Great Atlantic Hurricane of 1944, a powerful Category 3, would savage shorelines from North Carolina to New England. That storm set the region's wind record, with 134 mph at Cape Henry, Va., It also swept away the Atlantic City Boardwalk and other boardwalks along the New Jersey shore, with what witnesses described as a 'tidal wave."

The Mid-Atlantic coast has yet to have a significant region-wide coastal hurricane during the current active North Atlantic cycle, which began in 1995. The last was Hurricane Gloria in 1985. Hurricane history indicates that such an event is due.

Interior sections of the Mid-Atlantic have been spared a widespread high wind event for more than a half-century. Hurricane Hazel was the last. It came ashore in North Carolina in October 1954 as a Category 4 storm and slammed through the Middle Atlantic states. It swirled hurricane-force winds along an interior track of 500 miles, through the Northeast and into Canada. More than 100 people died. Hazel-type wind events occur about every 50 years, according to Schwartz.

Areas north of Florida are particularly susceptible to wind damage. "The popular Saffir-Simpson hurricane intensity scale understates the wind risk to the Mid-Atlantic," Schwartz said. "Leafy, shallow-rooted trees are easy prey for strong winds. Less wind-resistant building design also contributes to risk. Hurricane Isabel in 2003 was downgraded to a tropical storm when it reached Virginia but still caused billions of dollars in damage from there through Maryland and Pennsylvania."

Inland flooding is a threat any time a hurricane makes landfall. 2009 marks the 40th anniversary of Hurricane Camille and its devastating flash flooding in Virginia--the state's deadliest storm disaster. About 150 people died. In recent years, hurricanes such as Fran, Floyd and Ivan have brought the Middle Atlantic states severe generalized flooding.

"Despite little activity so far, 2009 is not a year for complacency," said Schwartz.

For more information about the hurricane history of the Middle Atlantic states, visit http://www.midatlantichurricanes.com. The site offers individual Web pages that summarize notable hurricane events for Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

For a review or reference copy of Hurricanes and the Middle Atlantic States, contact Mark Howard, the operations manager of Blue Diamond Books, at 301-762-7829. Rick Schwartz, the author of Hurricanes and the Middle Atlantic States, can be contacted at 703-719-6973 or 571-245-0318. He writes a monthly topical column, available at http://www.midatlantichurricanes.com.

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