Words on Weather and Climate — December 2, 2010

Where are all the hurricanes?


Meteorologist Craig James, new Squire columnist

The 2010 hurricane season officially ended on November 30. How did the forecasts made by NOAA and other hurricane forecasters before the start of the season turn out? Most of these forecasts called for anywhere from 12 to 20 named storms and better than a 50/50 chance for a major hurricane to strike the U.S. Actually, it was a pretty good forecast for the number of storms, but not for either intensity or number of land-falling storms.

This season tied with 1995 and 1887 for the third highest number of named storms in the Atlantic Basin. There were 19 named storms, which is well above the average of 10, and there were 12 storms that became hurricanes, which is more than double the average number of five. There were five storms that reached Category 3 or higher, attaining the status of a major hurricane.

However, not one hurricane of any intensity struck the United States. To point out how unusual that is, consider this: Since 1900, there is no precedent of an Atlantic hurricane season with 10 or more hurricanes where none has struck the U.S. Some forecasts were calling for nearly an 80 percent chance of a hurricane hitting the U.S. The five previous seasons with 10 or more hurricanes each had at least two hurricanes strike our shores.

The period 2006-2010 is one of only three five-year consecutive periods without a U.S. major hurricane landfall (the other two such periods were 1901-1905 and 1936-1940). There has never been a six-year period without a U.S. major hurricane landfall. I guess that means the odds of one hitting the U.S. coast next season are pretty high.

In addition, the last hurricane to make landfall on the USA was Hurricane Ike on September 13, 2008. It is now likely that we will see the string of hurricane-free days extend to June 1 of next year, the official start of hurricane season, when it will be 991 days. And if there is no U.S. land-falling hurricane in the nine days after that, it will hit 1,000 days. Chances are good this will happen.

While the Atlantic Basin saw a large number of storms, other ocean basins have been almost asleep. The number of typhoons in the Pacific may well turn out to be the lowest number on record. And even though the total number was up in the Atlantic, the overall intensity levels were down.

I’ve written before about the Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE) Index, which is used by NOAA to express the activity of tropical cyclone seasons. The ACE takes into account the number, strength and duration of all the tropical storms in a season. The ACE Index continues to run at near its lowest levels in the 33 years it has been calculated.

On the chart, the top line is the global ACE Index value and the bottom line is for just the Northern Hemisphere. I’d say the forecasts by the alarmists that global warming would cause either a greater number, or at the least more intense, tropical cyclones isn’t working out very well. Where are all the hurricanes?

Craig James has been retired since July 1, 2008, after 40 years of broadcasting television weather. He was chief meteorologist at WZZM-TV for 12 years and chief meteorologist at WOOD-TV for 24 years. He is a graduate of Penn State University, where he received a Centennial Fellowship Award. He was also honored as a Fellow of the American Meteorological Society.

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