Destructive 2018 Atlantic Hurricane Season Comes to a Close

The 2018 Atlantic Hurricane Season officially ends today.  It marked the third year in a row with above average activity.

According to NOAA, there were fifteen named storms this season. Of these, eight developed into hurricanes and two were major hurricanes with ratings of category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson Scale. An average season produces twelve named storms, six hurricanes, and three major hurricanes.  It is also interesting to note that this season was the first since 2008 to have four named storms active at the same time – Florence, Helene, Isaac, and Joyce.

Officially running from June 1 to November 30, the season got off to an early start with Tropical Storm Alberto forming in May. This was the fourth consecutive year to see a pre-season storm develop. The biggest names of the season, however, were Florence and Michael.

In September, Hurricane Florence made landfall in North Carolina and dumped a massive amount of rain on the area. Traveling inland, it caused catastrophic flooding in parts of both North and South Carolina. In Elizabethtown, NC, 35.93 inches of rain was reported, making the wettest tropical cyclone on record for the state. For the contiguous US, it ranked as the eighth wettest.

A few weeks later, Hurricane Michael hit the Florida panhandle as a cat-4 storm. With winds measured up to 155mph, it was the strongest storm on record to strike the region and the third strongest storm to make landfall in the continental US. Its powerful winds and storm surge flooding decimated the Panama City area.

Causing so much destruction, both Florence and Michel will likely be retired from the World Meteorological Organization’s list of storm names.

This active hurricane season was largely the result of above-average sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic and ENSO neutral conditions in the Pacific. With warm water to fuel storms coupled with reduced wind shear across the Gulf of Mexico, tropical development in the Atlantic basin was essentially unhindered.

Overall, the season is reported to have claimed the lives of 154 people and caused an estimated $33 billion in damages. The official tally from NOAA will not be available until early 2019.

Source: NOAA

Flashback Facts: Sixth Anniversary of Hurricane Sandy

Today marks the sixth anniversary of Superstorm Sandy. Here is a look back at some of the facts from that historic storm.

  • Sandy was the largest hurricane to form in the Atlantic basin. Its tropical storm force winds spanned 900 miles in diameter.
  • Impacts from Sandy were felt across 24 states, from Florida to Maine and as far inland as Michigan.
  • The most severe damage occurred in New York and New Jersey.
  • The storm surge at The Battery in NYC reached a new record high of 13.88 feet, flooding the streets, tunnels, and subways of lower Manhattan.
  • Sandy was responsible for 72 deaths in the US. Of those, 44 were in NYC and 24 were in the city’s hard hit borough of Staten Island.
  • More than 8 million people across 21 states lost power because of the storm.
  • Sandy caused more than $70 billion in damage.
  • It was the fourth costliest storm in US history after Katrina, Harvey, and Maria.

Superstorm Sandy. Credit: NOAA

Hurricane Michael Devastates Florida Panhandle

Hurricane Michael, the 13th named storm of this Atlantic Hurricane season, made landfall near Mexico Beach, Florida on Wednesday. It was the strongest storm on record to hit the Florida Panhandle.

Coming ashore with sustained winds measured up to 155mph, Michael was classified as a high-end category-four hurricane. Its powerful winds sheared roofs off buildings, uprooted trees, and toppled power lines. Storm surge flooding was also a major force of destruction. The NHC estimates the water reached between nine and fourteen feet above normally dry ground from Mexico Beach eastward through Apalachee Bay.

Fueled by the unseasonably warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, Michael intensified rapidly as it moved closer to shore. According the NWS, Michael was the strongest hurricane to make landfall in the US since Hurricane Andrew in 1992. It was also the strongest storm to ever hit this country in the month of October.

Moving quickly, the storm traveled across the Florida Panhandle toward the northeast. Its strong winds and heavy rain caused flashing flowing and power outages in several states.

As of Friday, the death toll from this historic storm stands at sixteen. But sadly, officials say that number is expected to rise as search and rescue efforts continue in the hardest hit areas.

Hurricane Michael makes landfall near Mexico Beach, FL. Credit: NOAA

Hurricane Florence Swamps the Carolinas

Hurricane Florence, the 6th named storm of the Atlantic Hurricane season, slammed North and South Carolina this weekend.

Steered across the Atlantic by a strong area of high pressure, Florence made landfall near Wrightsville Beach, NC on Friday morning as a category-1 storm.  It peaked at category-4 strength while still over the ocean, but weakened as it moved closer to the US coast.

Despite this downgrade, Florence still packed a powerful punch. Its strong winds, flooding rains, and storm surge forced people to evacuate their homes and caused significant property damage as well as widespread power outages across the region. In the hard hit city of New Bern, NC, at the mouth of the Neuse River, a storm surge of more than ten feet was reported. Local officials there say upward of 4000 homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed.

Moving as slowly as 2 mph at one point, Florence essentially stalled out over the region, allowing it to unleash massive amounts of precipitation. Preliminary reports show that the storm set new state records for rainfall from a single tropical cyclone in both North and South Carolina. In Elizabethtown, NC, 35.93 inches was reported, crushing the previous record of 24.06 inches set by Hurricane Floyd in 1999. In South Carolina, the town of Loris, about 25 miles north of Myrtle Beach, reported 23.63 inches of rain, eclipsing the old record of 17.45 inches set by Tropical Storm Beryl in 1994.

If these numbers are confirmed by the NWS, that would mean four state tropical cyclone rainfall records were broken in the last thirteen months. The other two being Texas with 60.58 inches of rain from Hurricane Harvey in August 2017 and Hawaii with 52.02 inches from Hurricane Lane just last month.

Measuring 400 miles wide, Florence’s successive bands of heavy rain also caused catastrophic inland flooding as several rivers in the region overflowed their banks and inundated communities. In Fayetteville, NC – nearly 100 miles from the coast – more than 15 inches of rain was reported as of Monday. The Cape Fear River, which runs through the city, is forecast to crest at 61.8 feet on Tuesday, which is more than 25 feet above flood stage.

The death toll from this storm currently stands at 20, with most fatalities being water related. Sadly, as the rivers across the area continue to rise, that number is expected to increase in the coming days.

Hurricane Florence off the coast of the Carolinas. Credit: NOAA

How Hurricanes are Classified

Hurricanes are one of nature’s most powerful storms. When formed in the Atlantic Ocean or North-Eastern Pacific, they are rated according to the Saffir-Simpson Scale.

Developed in the early 1970’s by Herbert Saffir, a civil engineer, and Dr. Robert Simpson of the National Hurricane Center, the scale classifies hurricanes into five categories based on the strength of their sustained winds. Each category is considered an estimate of the potential damage that a storm will cause if it makes landfall.  As conditions change within a storm, its category is re-assessed.

The different categories, 1 through 5, represent increasing wind speeds and escalating degrees of damage. Storms rated category 3 or higher are considered major hurricanes. The last category 5 storm to make landfall in the US was Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

While a useful tool, the Saffir-Simpson scale does not tell the whole story of the dangers to life and property posed by a hurricane. Regardless of category, these storms can produce dangerous storm surges in coastal areas and flooding rains further inland. Recent examples of these types of impacts were seen during Sandy and Harvey, respectively.

Hurricane Lane: The Wettest Tropical System Ever Recorded in Hawaii and the Second Wettest for US

Hurricane Lane, the twelfth named storm of eastern Pacific hurricane season, slammed the state of Hawaii with strong winds and flooding rains over the weekend. It was the wettest tropical cyclone on record in the Aloha state.

The storm, according to the NWS, peaked at category-5 strength, but weakened as it approached Hawaii. While it did not make landfall, its outer rain bands still packed a punch that was felt across the island chain. The Big Island, however, was one of the hardest hit. In the town of Mountain View, about 15 miles southwest of Hilo, 52.02 inches of rain was reported. That is the second highest rainfall total ever recorded from a tropical cyclone in the entire United States. The highest total, 60.58 inches, fell in Nederland, Texas during Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

The slow moving nature of Lane and the orographic lift provide by the mountainous terrain of Hawaii helped push the rainfall total into the record books. Falling in a relatively short period of time, the relentless precipitation caused widespread flooding, mudslides, and road closures. It also forced mass evacuations as well as a number of water rescues.

While the eastern and central Pacific basins produce about 15 named storms a year, they rarely hit Hawaii. This is largely because of the state’s location in the vast Pacific Ocean. Sitting at about 20°N latitude, most storms pass south of the archipelago or dissipate in the relatively cooler waters to its north and east.

The last hurricane to make landfall in Hawaii was Iniki, a category-4 storm, in 1992.

Source: NWS

Hurricanes, Typhoons, and Cyclones: What’s the Difference?

As Hurricane Lane makes its way toward Hawaii, many people have been asking me why the storm is not being called a typhoon given that it is taking place in the Pacific. The answer is all about location.

Hurricanes, typhoons, and cyclones are all the same type of storm – tropical cyclones. They are just called different things in different parts of the world. It’s like the way people in certain parts of the US say “soda” when referring to a cold fizzy drink, while people in other parts of the country use the word “pop”.

The term hurricane is used for tropical cyclones in the northern hemisphere from the Greenwich Meridian (0°) westward to the International Date Line (the 180° line of longitude). That includes the Atlantic basin as well as the eastern and central Pacific. The eastern Pacific is defined as everything north of the equator from the west coast of the North American continent to 140°W. The central Pacific, where Hawaii is located, extends from 140°W to 180°W.

Typhoon is the word used for storms west of that line, any area known as the western Pacific. If a hurricane crosses the International Date Line and maintains its strength, it will be renamed as a typhoon. In 2014, for example, Hurricane Genevieve became Typhoon Genevieve when it crossed into the western Pacific.

Across the southern hemisphere, all tropical cyclones are simply called cyclones.

These powerful storms, regardless of what we call them, can pose a threat to life and property. All warnings should be taken seriously.

Credit: American Red Cross

Names for the 2018 Atlantic Hurricane Season

Today is the first day of the Atlantic Hurricane Season. Although one named storm, Alberto, already formed this year, the season officially runs from June 1 to November 30.

Since 1950, each tropical storm or hurricane to form in the Atlantic has been given a unique name. They come from a set of six rotating lists produced by the World Meteorological Organization. A name is retired only when a storm was particularly noteworthy – causing a large number of fatalities or an extraordinary amount of damage. Some notable retired Atlantic Basin storm names include: Andrew, Harvey, Irma, Irene, Katrina, Maria, and Sandy. The names for this year’s storms are listed below.

Credit: NOAA

Subtropical Storm Alberto Makes Landfall in Florida and Travels North to Canada

Subtropical storm Alberto, the first named storm of the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season, made landfall near Laguna Beach in the Florida Panhandle on Monday. It was the second time this decade that a named storm hit the southeast coast on Memorial Day.

Classified as a subtropical storm, Alberto was a hybrid between a tropical storm and a regular low-pressure system usually found at higher latitudes. A tropical system is fueled by the latent heat released by the evaporation of ocean water while a regular storm is powered by the temperature contrast between air masses. Hybrids are able to access both energy sources.

Despite this somewhat confusing hybrid status, Alberto still packed a punch. Strong winds, downed trees, and heavy rain were seen across a large swath of the southeastern United States. A wind gust of 59-mph was reported at Fort Tyndall Air Force Base near Panama City, FL. Storm surge flooding was another concern. Water levels rose between 1 and 3 feet from Tampa Bay, FL to the Mississippi River delta in Louisiana.

Moving northward, heavy rain from the remnants of Alberto unleashed flash flooding in the several states and caused landslides in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Nearly 10 inches of rain was reported in Black Mountain, NC.

Forming in the waters off the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico on May 25, Alberto traveled all the way to Lake Huron near the Canadian border before dissipating on May 31. It was the first named storm to reach that far north this early in the season, according to researchers at the University of Miami.

The Atlantic hurricane season officially begins on June 1.

Track of Subtropical Storm Alberto. Credit: Supportstorm

2018 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook: Average to Above Average

The number of hurricanes that develop in the Atlantic basin varies from year to year. For 2018, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting an average to above average season.

Tropical cyclones, known as hurricanes in the United States, develop around the globe at different times of the year. In this country, we are most impacted by the Atlantic hurricane season, which affects the North Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico. It runs from June 1 through November 30.

Overall, NOAA predicts a 70% likelihood of ten to sixteen named storms forming this season, of which five to nine could become hurricanes, including one to four major hurricanes. An average season produces twelve named storms, including six hurricanes and three that become major hurricanes. A major hurricane is one that is rated category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson scale.

This outlook, according to NOAA, is based on the possibility of the development of a weak El Niño and near-average sea surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic. El Niño conditions in the Pacific tend to cause increased wind shear in the Atlantic, which suppresses tropical development in that basin.

Last year, 2017, was the most active Atlantic Hurricane season in more than a decade.  It produced seventeen named storms, including Harvey, Irma, and Maria. But regardless of the number of storms that actually form this year, it is important to remember that it only takes one land-falling system in your community to make it an impactful season.

Source: NOAA