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How Does the Highly Active 2017 Hurricane Season Compare?

Friday 22 September 2017 at 5:47 pm.

By JOY CRIST

As Jose departs our offshore waters, and Maria figures out whether she will take his place, it’s easy to see why so many folks are already calling 2017 one of the busiest hurricane seasons on record.

We’re already up to “M” after all, (does anyone even remember Katia and Lee? Or Bret? Or Cindy? Or Don?) And it feels like we’ve all been checking the National Hurricane Center website obsessively since mid-July.

But how does 2017 statistically compare to previous active years?

Earlier in the summer, NOAA released its hurricane forecast for the year and warned that 2017 was going to be an “above average” season. They predicted that there would be 14-19 named storms, (which included April's Tropical Storm Arlene.) Five to nine of these were forecast to become hurricanes, and two to five of these would become major hurricanes. This original forecast was well above the Atlantic Basin's 30-year historicalaverage (1981-2010) of 12 named storms, six hurricanes, and three major hurricanes.

And NOAA’s initial forecast appears to be spot on, if not a little lenient.

So far, there have been 13 named storms this year, which includes seven hurricanes, and we still have two months to go. The New York Times reported that “only four other seasons since 1995 have had that many by Sept. 18. Just two more by the end of the year would put 2017 in the top 15 since 1851, when reliable records began.”

The 2017 hurricane season is certainly busier than previous years, and it’s breaking a number of additional records nationally. Here are a few quick stats:

  • Irma remained a Category 5 hurricane for three consecutive days – longer than any other Atlantic hurricane.
  • Irma also had the strongest winds of any hurricane in the eastern Atlantic 2017 is also shaping up to be one of the most costly hurricane seasons in history. The expenses for 2005 clocked in at $143.5 billion in damages, due to Katrina and three other major hurricanes. So far, estimates for this year’s damage from Harvey and Irma alone are around $290 billion.
  • We’ve had more named storms so far this year than we had for each entire hurricane season in 1997, 1999, 2002, 2006, 2009, 2014 and 2015.

But what really stands out for meteorologists nationwide is the intensity and the frequency of these storms.

It’s not eyebrow-raising for six storms to develop in a month, but it is very unusual for a third of these storms to be a Cat 4 or 5. It’s also unusual for storms to attack the same region in just a couple weeks, as Irma, Jose and Maria have all done in the Caribbean.

So why is 2017 so active?

According to National Geographic, which interviewed an atmospheric scientist at MIT, the atmospheric conditions were simply “hurricane friendly.”

Per National Geographic, the Climate Prediction Center says that a number of conditions, such as a strong west African monsoon, have aligned to make the Caribbean Sea and part of the tropical Atlantic—an area called the “Main Development Region”—particularly well-suited to hurricanes.

Hurricanes need warm air and warm water in order to form, and this year, they have been able to have consistent wind speeds from the surface level to up to 10 miles up – an attribute that makes it easier for storms to maintain their form and strength.

In addition, El Niño – a normal weather pattern – is late to the scene this year. El Niño typically creates wind patterns which can counteract the formation or strengthening of tropical cyclones, and not having it around has helped allow storms to flourish.

That said, as active as 2017 is, it’s unlikely that it will be the most active season on record. That destructive title goes to 2005, which saw 28 named storms, including seven that were cat 3 or higher, and five storm names that were retired - Dennis, Rita, Stan, Wilma and Katrina.

And locally, the 2017 hurricane season hasn’t left a record-breaking mark. Hatteras and Ocracoke islands had heavy ocean overwash this past week after back-to-back encounters with offshore Jose and Irma, but this has been our worse brush with hurricanes thus far.

To put it in perspective, by this time in previous years, we were recovering from Hurricane Emily (1993), Dennis and Floyd (1999), Isabel (2003), Alex (2004), Irene (2011), and Hermine (2016.) And while there is noticeable damage in certain hot spots on Hatteras Island from Jose – particularly Rodanthe and south Avon – anyone who remembers the aforementioned storms can attest that it could be worse.

We still have a ways to go before November 30, to be sure. And 2017 has certainly been more than active. Any local who has looked at the devastating photos from Harvey and Irma has had a knot form in their stomach – one of empathy and solidarity, because we know that awful feeling when a bad storm hits.

So we’ll continue to obsessively follow the various weather websites, (personally, I’m addicted to Mike’s Weather Page), and hold our breath until Thanksgiving rolls around.

If Hatteras and Ocracoke islands continue to remain out of the bull’s eye of upcoming storms, great. But if not, we’ve been there before – multiple times – and we’ve always bounced back.

Just look at local businesses like Sonny’s, Odens Dock, Quarterdeck, and the Frisco Native American Museum. After Matthew last year, you couldn’t help but wonder how these places could recover after record flooding. But they’re all currently open, and look better than ever.

Hurricanes are part of the islands’ DNA. And while 2017 may end up being a record breaking season, the islands will carry on, no matter what comes.

five comments

Becky Oberman

Wow! What a great article! It is very interesting to see how all the years stack up. Thank you very much. I’m planning to be in Avon tomorrow evening.

Becky Oberman - 22-09-’17 19:45
Salvo Jimmy

And it ain’t just named storms. Nor’easters can be bad as well.

Until Irene came along in 2011, the most sound flooding at my house in Salvo since it was built in 1971 was a March Nor’easter.

Salvo Jimmy - 23-09-’17 03:15
paul meadow

No worry, NC has already outlawed the global warming that’s causing all that warm water leading to Cat 5 hurricanes. That’s right, the contribution of man-made global warming as well as non man-made global warming causing increased hurricane strength was made against the law by the NC state government—and that means they’ll set up road blocks and throw that nasty globally warmed hurricane into jail! So relax.

paul meadow - 23-09-’17 03:59
Denny in Dayton

Good take on it. It’s weather. They have predicted above average hurricanes for about the last 6 years and this is the first time that’s been true. It’s been almost 12 years since the US had a major hurricane strike, which is very abnormal. So again, it’s just weather.

Denny in Dayton - 23-09-’17 05:10
Howdoyousleep

The article states: “We’ve had more named storms so far this year than we had for each entire hurricane season in 1997, 1999, 2002, 2006, 2009, 2014 and 2015.” That means in the past twenty year period we had more named storms in the other 13 years than this year. Maybe things are cooling off?

Howdoyousleep - 23-09-’17 18:30




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