Reasons behind the quietest hurricane season in 30+ years

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While the Pacific Ocean has produced an above-normal number of tropical storms and hurricanes this year, the Atlantic Ocean remains a sleeping giant. The 2014 season which runs from June 1st to December 1st started quickly as Hurricane Arthur formed off of the Carolinas and moved ashore during the 4th of July Weekend. It did minimal damage as winds barely achieved hurricane criteria.

After that, four more storms came and went, all staying away from the United States. With only five storms this season, it's the fewest since 1983! The next storm (should it form) is Fay. Perhaps that will be the storm that makes a hit. But the chance isn't very likely at this point.

The 2014 Atlantic Hurricane Season comes on the heels of a very quiet season last year. In fact, it seems as if the active season of 2005 broke the “storm machine!” It's been nine years since a Category 3+ hurricane made landfall in the United States!

hurricane12005 was the most active storm season in recorded history. The season was the first to use "V" and "W" names, and when the season ran out of official alphabetical names after Wilma, Meteorologists went to the Greek alphabet for the first time. Four major hurricanes made landfall along the Gulf Coast in 2005. The eleventh named storm of the season went on to be one of the worst hurricanes in U.S. history: Katrina. Killing more than 1,000 people and causing more than a hundred billion dollars in damage, Katrina exceeded the worst-case scenarios in many people’s heads and became the most costly weather disaster in U.S. history.

hurricane3But since that disaster, it's as if the storm machine was shut off like a switch! One caveat is Super Storm Sandy which slammed the coast of New Jersey, lashing a record blow to New England around Halloween 2012. While controversial at the time, the National Hurricane Center changed the designation of Hurricane Sandy 2 1/2 hours before landfall calling it a "non-tropical storm." For that reason, and the fact that a major hurricane has to have wind of at least 111 mph, we can’t really call Sandy a major hurricane. Nonetheless, Sandy did go on to produce $68 Billion in damage which was widespread from Massachusetts to the Carolinas.

itczBut what happened since then? For one, a strong shearing wind has prevented storm formation in the ITCZ (Intertropical Convergence Zone). The ITCZ is the area from western Africa into the Caribbean where most tropical storms and hurricanes form, especially in the most active months of September and October. High winds aloft have prevented any systems from developing closed circulating low pressure systems. And with these high winds aloft set to continue through the end of the season, no significant storms are expected…at least here in the ITCZ.

Another reason for a lack of storms this year could be the pause in warming temperatures. Cooler than normal air temperatures have been observed across the U.S. Cooler temperatures and more progressive cool fronts moving into the Gulf of Mexico have kept the conditions unfavorable for development.

Tropical storm and hurricane formation is still possible this late in the season in the western Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico. Should one form here, the track would favor Florida and the eastern Gulf Coast. But again, the atmospheric conditions are not going to be favorable for development in the next few weeks. And the farther we get away from September 10th (the midpoint of hurricane season) the probability of storms will continue to drop dramatically.

The quantity of storms in a season doesn’t matter nearly as much as whether a storm affects the coastline or a city. You probably don’t remember much about the 1989, 1992, or 2004 hurricane seasons but those were the years of Hugo, Andrew, Charley, and Ivan. All it takes is one.

seThe National Hurricane Center is watching a swirling low pressure system in the Central Atlantic. It's likely this will become our next named storm but the steering wind will keep it well out to sea.

3 comments

  • Not Chicken Little

    And as we all know, the warmist experts were not surprised because this was all predicted by climate change computer models! Uh, wait a minute…

  • Clifford Rogers

    I’m certainly glad that global warming has caused the cool conditions that have prevented hurricane formation in the Atlantic…Uh, how’s that work again? Charley passed right over my house and that’s the last one I ever want to deal with.

  • John D

    It’s not really that difficult to understand – the same conditions which favor the formation of the large Pacific tropical storms we’ve seen lately also favor weak hurricane-forming activity in the Atlantic. That’s been the pattern for El Niño events – they tend to coincide with weak Atlantic hurricane seasons. It all has a lot to do with the behavior of the jet streams at mid-latitudes, and how that disrupts the normal reinforcement of cyclonic trends in the convergence zone off the west African coast, where most Atlantic hurricanes form. There’s also the contribution from particulate pollution (soot, ash, dust), which tends to force cooling by limiting the amount of light reaching the surface. This has had strong impacts on Atlantic storm formation before, because particulates from European industries are carried southward over Africa, where they alter storm activity by slowing evaporation caused by sunlight. That effect has been waning in recent years, because nations and industries made changes in practices and regulations, and particulate emissions went down. Which is one of the reasons we had such a noticeable decades-long heating trend, because we were seeing heating on top of the reduction in cooling. Which means much of the heat has been masked from our view for a long time, which is not good.

    So sorry, this doesn’t dispel or disprove the global heating trend over recent decades. It’s more that the atmospheric/ ocean interface is transferring the bulk of the heat to deep ocean waters at the moment, rather than he atmosphere. It was an unexpected and strong effect, but it doesn’t render anthropogenic climate change extinct, or even endangered, because it doesn’t alter the heat- flow balance for the whole globe significantly. The heat’s just going into a different sink at the moment, and eventually we will get a full-fledged El Niño which will release a lot of that ocean heat back into the atmosphere, the average air temps will start to rise again, and the Atlantic storms will return, hopefully not intensified the way the Pacific storms have been, because that would not bode well for the eastern and southern United States. The heat has to go somewhere, it can’t just disappear. Second law of thermodynamics and all that. If you aren’t feeling that heat today, it just means it is going to be that much more for you to feel later.

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