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.
In his movie An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore said global warming caused Katrina. Although Katrina was a devastating hurricane, it was not the most powerful to hit the United States. Hurricane Andrew struck extreme south Florida on August 24, 1992, as a Category 5, with maximum sustained winds of 165 miles per hour. The Okeechobee hurricane of 1928 struck Palm Beach as a Category 4, and was more powerful than Katrina. The Galveston hurricane of September 8, 1900, struck the Texas coast as a Category 4. There are many other examples.
Mr. Gore does not know the difference between weather and climate. It is not possible to say that any single weather event can be the result of a long, slow climate trend. There is simply far too much year-to-year variability in weather to attribute a single hurricane or any other weather event to a climate trend.
Not to be outdone, another massive hurricane named Rita struck the upper Texas coast on September 24, 2005. Rita had also been a Category 5 storm over the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico, but struck Texas as a Category 3. Hurricane Wilma became another super storm in the western Caribbean on October 19 -- that day, Wilma had maximum sustained winds of 185 miles per hour! The storm crossed the northeastern portion of the Yucatan Peninsula on the 22nd, and then tracked to the northeast. Hurricane Wilma made landfall on the southwest Florida coast on October 24 as a Category 3 storm. The hurricane did extensive damage across portions of Florida before moving off into the Atlantic.
At this point, many in Florida had seen enough and moved out. Three hurricanes in south Florida in two years was more than some could take. A friend of mine in West Palm Beach said to me as the 2006 season began: “I feel like I’m looking down the barrel of a gun.” Another friend of mine in Boca Raton just gave up and moved away. He couldn’t sell the house, because it was on a canal and would flood if another hurricane hit. But at least he was far from the coast and the worst of the storms. He could sleep better.
By the spring of 2006 people were wondering if it was going to be what Al Gore said it would be. Global warming was going to make more hurricanes, and more powerful hurricanes. After what happened in 2004 and 2005, people were beginning to believe it. Well ... at least some people did. A review of hurricane history showed that the amazing season of 2005 was a rare event. Since the mid-1880s there have only been two other seasons like it -- 1887 and 1933.
By May of 2006 there was great anticipation as the next hurricane season approached. Private weather companies made predictions that the northeastern part of the country was at “high risk” of being hit by a hurricane. Some were predicting five hurricanes would hit the U.S. in 2006. But the hurricane season of 2006 was quiet. Very quiet. There were five hurricanes, but they were far at sea and none came close to hitting the U.S. mainland.
As the 2007 season approached, the forecasts were again for an active to very active season. The 2007 season was more active, but the total of 6 hurricanes was only the long-term average number. It was not active or very active at all. There were two Category 5 hurricanes: one of them struck Mexico, and the other Central America. One Category 1 hurricane, Humberto, hit the upper Texas coast on the evening of September 12, but did little significant damage.
The season of 2008 was back to being active, with 16 named storms and 8 hurricanes. Three hurricanes made landfall that year, but the one that stood above the others was Ike. This Category 2 hurricane was a broad storm with winds very near Category 3 intensity when it made landfall near Galveston, Texas, during the early morning hours of September 13. There was a large amount of damage from the winds and the storm surge.
The hurricane season of 2009 was predicted to be average. Instead it was one of the quietest hurricane seasons in the last 25 years. Only 3 hurricanes developed, and none did any damage to the United States. Ida was a Category 1 when it made landfall near the mouth of the Mississippi River on November 9.
So what happened? Where did all the hurricanes go?
The crazy 2004 and 2005 seasons were supposed to be the new normal. Pretend scientists like Al Gore said global warming was here, and we had better listen to him because he had all the answers. People pay Al Gore $200,000 to speak, but that doesn’t mean he knows anything.
Very active hurricane seasons like 2005 are rare, even in periods of increased activity which we are in now and have been in since about 1995. The increase in hurricanes since 1995 is due to a cyclic warming of the Atlantic Ocean -- not any so-called global warming. The same thing happened from the 1930s to the late 1950s. Even in periods of increased activity, there can be several years of decreased hurricanes due to things such as El Nino, cooler water temperatures, and dust from the Sahara desert.
To date, no Category 3 or stronger hurricane has hit the United States since 2005. Ike in 2008 was close, but not quite. This is the longest stretch of time that we have not had a Category 3 or greater hurricane hit the U.S. since the period of 1911 to 1914!
The great hurricane flameout that has dominated the seasons since 2005 is just part of the natural variability of weather. Those that said global warming caused 2005, and Katrina, and that our future was doomed to get stormier and stormier were completely wrong, as usual.
Interestingly, the great hurricane flameout has been a worldwide phenomenon. The ACE index measures the energy of all tropical storms and hurricanes around the globe: currently the ACE index is at its lowest level in 30 years. Worldwide hurricane activity has been not only lower since 2005, it’s much lower.
This won’t last forever. The active phase of hurricanes has not gone away. However, it is very unlikely we will see a season like 2005 for a very, very long time.