Wednesday, December 06, 2017

The 2017 hurricane season

In some ways, this year wasn't as bad as it could have been.
By Dennis Mersereau November 13, 2017
Popular Science


An average year sees 12 named tropical storms, six of which go on to be hurricanes. Three of those hurricanes typically reach category three or higher on the Saffir-Simpson Scale. This year saw 17 named storms, 10 of which strengthened into hurricanes and six of which reached category three or stronger. It was a truly awful hurricane season that will easily rank as one of the costliest on record, in terms of damage.


An awful eight-week stretch began when Hurricane Franklin made landfall in Mexico at the beginning of August. Franklin was the first in a record-setting streak of 10 consecutive hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean, a feat unseen since reliable records began with the advent of weather satellites in the 1960s. (Records for the Atlantic stretch back to the 1800s, but it’s likely that some storms went unnoticed before the satellite era.)

We saw six major hurricanes this year. Irma and Maria reached the top of the scale and hit land as category fives, and Harvey and Jose peaked as category fours. It’s not terribly unusual for at least one or two hurricanes to get this strong in a healthy hurricane season, but each storm managed to find just the right conditions to flourish and did so at just the wrong moment. Last month we took a look at the factors that helped make 2017 so ugly. A warmer Atlantic, a cooler Pacific, and fewer pulses of dry, dusty Saharan air helped this year’s storms explode to their greatest possible potential.


The disasters seemed to pile atop one another. Franklin and Katia both hit Mexico’s Gulf Coast very near the same spot east of Mexico City, with the latter coming just days after a deadly earthquake and putting strain on the country’s disaster response crews.

Harvey made landfall in Texas as a category four with winds of 130 MPH. The storm stalled and dumped several feet of rain in the following days, leading to historic flooding around Houston and killing dozens. And Irma was waiting to follow close behind.

The hurricane laid waste multiple Caribbean Islands before pummeling Florida. Barbuda sustained such heavy damage that all of the island’s inhabitants had to temporarily evacuate to sister island Antigua ahead of Hurricane Jose, depopulating the island for the first time in centuries. Irma’s close brush with Puerto Rico severely weakened its infrastructure at the worst possible time, setting the stage for the U.S. commonwealth’s worst modern disaster.

Hurricane Maria made landfall as a strong category four and destroyed what Irma had weakened. Most Puerto Ricans remain without electricity or reliable access to basic necessities nearly two months after the storm. Maria left behind comparable damage on the small island of Dominica, which took the brunt of the category five hurricane at its strongest.

Many of these hurricanes broke one record after another. Harvey was the first major hurricane to hit the United States in 12 years, and it produced the most rain ever seen from one tropical cyclone in the United States. Irma was the strongest hurricane on record outside of the Caribbean or Gulf of Mexico, and it was one of the longest-lived category fives we’ve ever seen. Ophelia’s approach to Ireland was the farthest northeast we’ve ever recorded a major hurricane.

And yet, things could have been even worse. This season was a fantastic demonstration of how far weather forecasting has come over the decades. A season like this could have easily killed thousands of people not too long ago, without a network of satellites, radars, computer models, and experienced forecasters predicting the tracks of the storms with stunning accuracy. Forecasters also altered the way they issue warnings to help get the word out faster—a change directly influenced by Hurricane Sandy. A new weather satellite called GOES-16 helped us track the storms with unprecedented speed and clarity. The wonders of meteorology were on display this summer, and they helped save countless lives.


tags: severe weather, extreme weather

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