Sunday, August 7, 2016

U.S. continues to dodge hurricane bullets

Not Memphis weather related, but very interesting nonetheless, especially if you frequent Gulf beaches on vacation!

Dr. Philip Klotzbach, an expert in tropical research and forecasting at Colorado State University, offered some interesting facts on the records being broken due to an nearly unprecedented lack of hurricanes to affect the U.S., as reported in a Denver Post article. After a devastating string of storms in 2004-2005, in which seven storms that included Katrina, Rita, and Wilma struck the state in 14 months, the Gulf has been very quiet as it relates to these powerful storms.

A satellite montage of the major storms of the 2005 hurricane season, provided by NASA and NOAA.
Many have lamented how "out of practice" the region is as millions of people are now living on the Gulf and Florida coastlines that have never experienced a hurricane. The Associated Press reports that 1.5 million people and half a million new homes are new to Florida's coastal communities since the 2005 storms. Drills and written plans aren't the same as full-blown mandatory evacuations of thousands to perhaps millions in coastal areas when the next major hurricane churns towards a populated coastal area. Here are some stats that are incredible, or scary if you believe in karma or "the odds." (Full credit given to the WeatherBell Premium blog for bringing these stats to my attention.)

1. Major hurricanes are those with 111 mph wind or stronger (category 3-5 on the 5-point Saffir-Simpson scale). A major hurricane has not made landfall on the U.S. East Coast or Gulf coast in 3,940 days - more than a decade - which is longer than the previous such record streak by almost 2 years! (Sandy was a "post-tropical cyclone" when it hit New Jersey in 2012, though it had category 1 strength wind.) The last major hurricane landfall was Wilma in October 2005.

2. After being battered in the mid 2000's, the state of Florida hasn't had a hurricane landfall (any intensity) since Wilma in 2005. The state averages 7 landfalls per decade and the current record is nearly twice as long as the last hurricane-less streak of 6 years (1979-1985).

3. Even more amazing are the number of chances there have been for Florida to be struck in that "hurricane drought." 67 hurricanes (27 majors) have formed in the Atlantic since Wilma!

4. The Gulf of Mexico has not had a hurricane in its waters in almost 3 years, the longest stretch since 1851. The last Gulf hurricane was Ingrid in September 2013 which made landfall in Mexico. (Storms in the Caribbean Sea, roughly south of the Yucatan peninsula and Cuba and east of Florida, are not included in the Gulf of Mexico statistics.)

The "return period" for major hurricanes for areas along the U.S. coastline. Return period indicates how often major hurricanes have traditionally occurred in a location in terms of number of years between storms. Graphic courtesy NOAA/NHC.
So what's to make of the lengthy string of good fortune for U.S. coastlines? Likely, just that - good fortune. There is no good meteorological or climatological explanation for the U.S. not being hit by a hurricane for that long, with that many chances, in multiple weather and climate scenarios over the decade-plus long period of record. We can only hope that when the string is broken, we aren't discussing records in terms of dollars of damage and lives lost due to lack of preparation.

Erik Proseus
MWN Meteorologist

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