Hurricane Irene, if it keeps to its projected path and hits Florida and North Carolina later this week, will become the first hurricane in three years to make landfall in the United States.
The last to strike here was Hurricane Ike, which ravaged Texas as a Category 2 storm in September 2008. It caused nearly $30 billion in damage in the U.S. alone, making it the third worst hurricane in U.S. history, behind 2005's Hurricane Katrina and 1992's Hurricane Andrew. Just two months prior, in July 2008, Texas had sustained more than $1 billion in damage from Hurricane Dolly, which was the third-costliest hurricane in the state's history until Ike surpassed it.
Altogether, the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season included eight hurricanes, of which seven affected the U.S. to some degree, although not all of those made landfall in the country. There were six hurricanes in 2007, of which only one, the Category 1 Humberto, made landfall in the U.S. None made landfall here in the 2006 season, for the first time since 2001. The 2005 season, however, was the most active in history, with at least five hurricanes hitting the U.S., including the devastating Katrina, Rita and Wilma. (There was a Hurricane Irene in 2005, too, but it did not make landfall or cause any damage.)
The country has been lucky for the past few years, but that luck appears to be dwindling. While it is still uncertain whether Hurricane Irene will make landfall in Florida or remain off the coast, it is looking increasingly likely that North Carolina will be hit. According to the Associated Press, Irene is expected to make landfall in the Chesapeake Bay area by Sunday. Already, the authorities in some places, including Ocracoke Island in North Carolina, have ordered mandatory evacuations.
Irene struck Puerto Rico on Monday, cutting power to more than a million residents, and continued on to the Dominican Republic on Tuesday. Its projected path has it over the Bahamas early Wednesday, along the Florida coast on Thursday or Friday and in North Carolina by Sunday.