Planet Earth

It's a Busy Hurricane Season After All

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneySep 15, 2010 1:47 PM

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Back in August, I was wondering whether this hurricane season would live up to expectations. Sea surface temperatures were at record highs, and the pre-season forecasts were dire...but for the most part, the storms themselves had not yet appeared. Well, that's all changed now. With Earl, Igor, and now Julia--which unexpectedly exploded into a Category 4 storm last night; pictured at right--we're already slightly above the long term average for an Atlantic hurricane season. We've had 11 named storms, 5 hurricanes, and 4 intense hurricanes (Category 3 or higher). The average year has 10 storms, 6 hurricanes, and 2 intense ones. So we're particularly high in the hurricane intensity category already, and there's quite a ways yet to go in the season. The strongest storm ever observed in the Atlantic, 2005's Hurricane Wilma, occurred in October. What all of this says to me is that we've been exceedingly lucky that with the exception of Hurricane Alex in June, there has not been a single hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico this year (or, for that matter, the Caribbean). Instead, they've all been out in the open Atlantic, and the steering currents have bent them away from the North American landmass (which will surely be the fate of Igor and Julia as well). Given the climatic conditions out there, if these steering currents were to change--or if a storm were to suddenly appear in the Gulf or Caribbean with some ample time over water--my fear is that we could have a Category 4 or 5 in a place that could really hurt us. Eric Berger has more analysis of how this storm season stacks up against previous ones--and how the pre-season forecasts are looking right now.

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