What Happened to All the Hurricanes, Al?
After Hurricane Katrina and the amazing season of 2005, we were supposed to see year after year of terrible hurricanes. Where are they?
Where is all the death and destruction? We were told global warming was here, and would ignite a fire under the storms, making them bigger and more frequent. Massive hurricanes like Katrina would become much more common. The world’s oceans were warming, and this would stoke the fires of these tropical monsters. But they are not here -- the hurricanes are missing in action, and have been ever since 2005. The truth: there has been a dramatic decrease in the number of hurricanes in the last five years. The total energy of all hurricanes around the world has plunged since 1993 -- the opposite of what was predicted. How could that be, if global warming is real and is impacting our climate today?
Let’s go back to the middle of last decade, and see what took place.
Four hurricanes made landfall on the United States during the 2004 season -- all of them hit Florida. On August 13, Charley hit the southwest coast as a tiny but powerful Category 4 storm. There was massive damage over a narrow path from the Punta Gorda, Port Charlotte area all the way to Orlando. Hurricane Frances came ashore at Stuart, FL, during the night and morning hours of September 4 and 5. Even though the storm was only a Category 2, its slow forward movement inflicted many hours of pounding hurricane-force winds. A large area from Palm Beach County northward to Vero Beach and beyond was severely impacted.
Three weeks later, to the dismay of everyone on Florida’s east coast, Jeanne struck Stuart! It hit during the night of September 25. Jeanne had moved along the north coast of the Dominican Republic on September 17. By the 20th, Jeanne was moving to the northeast, away from the United States. Unbelievably -- while people on the east coast of south and central Florida were recovering from Frances -- Hurricane Jeanne did a complete 360 degree loop and headed back towards Florida. The Category 3 hurricane made landfall right at Stuart: two significant hurricanes in the same place within three weeks of each other!
Ivan came ashore as a Category 3 hurricane just to the west of the Florida panhandle during the night of September 15. Fortunately for residents of southern Alabama and western Florida, Ivan had diminished in strength -- it had been a mighty Category 5 when it passed the western tip of Cuba on the 13th.
The hurricane season of 2004 was a horrible time for Florida. Then came 2005.
The long-term average number of named tropical storms in the Atlantic basin is 11. In 2005 there were 27. The long-term average number of hurricanes is 6. In 2005 there were a record 15.
Actually, the hurricane seasons of 1933 and 1887 were probably very similar in the number of tropical storms and hurricanes -- there were no satellites to see all the storms back then, so 2005 stands as the “record” year. There were so many storms in 2005 that the hurricane center used up all the letters of the alphabet for names! Names from the Greek alphabet were recruited to fill the void. This was the first year since the naming of storms began in 1953 that this was necessary.
This was also the year of Hurricane Katrina. This massive hurricane first made landfall near Miami as a Category 1 hurricane on August 25. Katrina then entered the Gulf of Mexico and became a powerful Category 5 storm, with maximum sustained winds of 175 miles per hour, on the 28th. Katrina then moved northward, and made landfall near the mouth of the Mississippi River on the morning of August 29 as a weaker but very dangerous Category 3. Over 1,800 people officially lost their lives -- there were probably many more that were never found or counted -- and the broad area of destruction made this one of the worst natural disasters in American history.
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