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More Hurricanes Predicted For ‘97 As Wild Storm Season Winds Down

Saturday closed the books on a hurricane season that turned out busier than expected - including four storms that affected North Carolina and Virginia - and ‘97 promises to be another busy year.

“It is likely 1997 will also be an active hurricane season,” said Dr. William M. Gray, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Colorado State University. Gray is the nation’s leading forecaster of tropical cyclones in the Atlantic.

That’s not good news for coastal residents who have now weathered two unusual seasons.

Hurricanes this year killed 155 people in the Caribbean, Central America and the United States, and caused at least $4.1 billion damage in the United States alone, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Not since continuous weather observations began in 1880 have there been 34 tropical storms in two years: 21 tropical storms in 1995, 13 this year.

“Clearly, 1995 and 1996 represent a remarkable upsurge in hurricane activity,” Gray said.

Hardest hit in the U.S. were North Carolina and Virginia, where the season got off to a bad start and got worse.

The real destroyer was Hurricane Fran. It became the costliest storm of the year as it wrecked the southeast coast of North Carolina and caused extensive flooding in inland North Carolina and central Virginia in early September.

The National Hurricane Center said Fran caused $3.2 billion in actual damage. But North Carolina officials, who include non-insured damage and losses to such things as commercial forest land, put the tally at $6.57 billion in damage

Insurance companies are fielding damage claims in the two states that are approaching $2 billion, making it one of the industry’s 10 costliest U.S. disasters. And property owners who were spared damage are also feeling the pain as insurers pull out of some coastal areas or raise rates.

Several storms neared, but spared, the heavily-populated areas of Southeast Virginia known as Hampton Roads. Home to about 1 million people and the largest naval base in the world, as well as a huge port, the area fell under storm clouds and rains several times, but was spared the worst.