Hurricane Ian was one of the most catastrophic weather events in the United States last year. According to a post-storm analysis from the National Hurricane Center (NHC), meteorologists found that the peak winds in the eyewall of Hurricane Ian reached 160 mph (140 knots), which met the criteria of a Category 5 hurricane. Ian lost wind intensity as it neared Florida’s west coast, and ultimately made landfall as a powerful Category 4 hurricane.
Category 5 hurricanes are one of the most powerful types of storms on Earth. According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) historical hurricane data, which dates back to 1851, there have been a total of 37 Category 5 hurricanes to ever form in the Atlantic Ocean basin. Of those 37, only four of them have ever made landfall in the U.S.
The Labor Day hurricane of 1935 was among the first Category 5 hurricanes to make landfall when it devastated the Florida Keys. It wasn’t until nearly 34 years later when Hurricane Camille smashed into the Mississippi coast, bringing the largest storm surge the U.S. had ever seen at the time. Hurricane Andrew struck southeastern Florida 23 years after Camille, destroying scores of homes and leaving thousands without power for several months, according to NOAA. Most recently, Hurricane Michael made landfall near Mexico Beach, Florida, in 2018. Micheal resulted in about $25 billion in damages in the U.S., according to NHC.
Correction: This post has been updated to reflect that Andrew struck Florida 23 years after Camille's landfall, not 27.
Every state along the Gulf Coast has been impacted by a major hurricane since 2000. But three states stand out as the most prone to hurricanes:
1. Florida – No surprise here: About 40% of all hurricanes in the country have hit the state. It is also the only state to have been impacted by multiple Category 5 hurricanes.
2. Texas – This state accounts for 21% of all U.S. landfalls since 1851 – the most recent being Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
3. Louisiana – A total of 60 hurricanes have made landfall in the state since 1851, with about 35% categorized as major hurricanes, including Hurricane Katrina, the costliest tropical storm on record.
Among the states in the Gulf Coast region of the United States, three stand out as the most impacted regions for hurricanes.
Screen actress Katharine Hepburn is shown in the 1940 film "The Philadelphia Story." (AP Photo )
In 1938, weather forecasting wasn’t what it is today, which led to many, including Katharine Hepburn, being caught off-guard by a hurricane that was originally set to make landfall in Florida.
With no radar, weather buoys or satellite imagery, forecasters relied on ships at sea to provide reports on hurricanes. A ship alerted the U.S. Weather Bureau — the predecessor of the National Weather Service — of a storm that was churning northeast of Puerto Rico. Forecasters understood there was a hurricane east of the Bahamas, but underestimated the storm’s strength and forward speed. Therefore, many forecasts had the storm making landfall in southeastern Florida. Many Florida residents braced for impact, but, no storm arrived.
Instead, the Category 3 hurricane skirted up the Eastern Seaboard and slammed into Long Island before making a second landfall over Milford, Connecticut. “The storm struck without warning,” AccuWeather Chief Meteorologist Jonathan Porter said. Up to 700 people were estimated to have died as a result of the storm.
Among those who were affected by the storm was the then 31-year-old actress Katharine Hepburn, who was vacationing in Old Saybrook, Connecticut. Hepburn, her mother and their maid fled from their flooded house during the height of the storm to find a working phone. Hepburn recalled getting drenched, brusied and scratched as she searched for a phone to call her father.
A coordinated mission by Saildrone Inc. and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) sent a drone "where no research vessel has ever ventured". The drone was sent into the eye of Hurricane Sam to change scientists' understanding of how hurricanes work. The first videos from the mission were released in 2021 and showed dark skies and raging waves. Scientists were able to get directly into the eye of the storm, recording wind gusts up to 91 mph and waves up to 42 feet in height.
“Using data collected by saildrones, we expect to improve forecast models that predict rapid intensification of hurricanes,” NOAA Oceanographer Greg Foltz said. “Rapid intensification, when hurricane winds strengthen in a matter of hours, is a serious threat to coastal communities. New data from drone ships and other un-crewed systems that NOAA is using will help us better predict the forces that drive hurricanes and be able to warn communities earlier.”
Hurricane Sam was one of four major hurricanes during the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season. The storm remained at Category 4 strength for multiple days as it moved across the Atlantic Ocean. Sam remained over open water during its lifetime, resulting in no significant impacts to land.
Wind shear is a common term when used to discuss the possibility of tropical development, but what is it and how does it affect tropical cyclones and other weather patterns? To put it simply, wind shear is the change in direction and speed of winds throughout the various levels of the atmosphere. There are multiple types of wind shear and because it can be a factor over the ocean as well as over land, it can be somewhat complex to understand. When issuing forecasts for the tropical Atlantic, forecasters typically examine vertical wind shear. Because tropical systems grow by becoming vertically stacked like pancakes, winds with varying speeds and directions at lower levels of the atmosphere can cause the top of the tropical system to be pushed and tilted from the base. This can cause the system to lose wind intensity.
“A tall, neat stack is what a tropical system wants to be, but wind shear can cause some pancakes to be displaced and the stack could fall over,” AccuWeather Long-Range Meteorologist Alex DaSilva explained.
Horizontal wind shear is similar to its vertical counterpart but oriented in the opposite way. Horizontal wind shear is the change in horizontal winds over the surface of the ocean. When a storm comes across this type of shear, it can be dragged or torn apart. Horizontal wind shear can often bring powerful wind gusts that can carry a tropical storm away from the direction in which it’s headed or disrupt the circular flow of the tropical system. On rare occasions, wind shear can sometimes allow tropical cyclones to strengthen such as when it pushes a storm over warmer waters.
Superstorm Sandy is most remembered for its devastating impacts in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast following its landfall along the New Jersey coast in late October 2012. The storm is one of the costliest natural disasters in history, and some residents are still dealing with the fallout. But did you know the storm had a wintry side as well? On the western edge of Sandy, over the Appalachian Mountains about 300 miles inland, tropical moisture clashed with incoming cold air arriving from the west. This caused the National Hurricane Center to mention snow or blizzard conditions for the first time ever in one of its tropical forecasts. Some locations received more than a foot of snow from Sandy.
Hurricane Sandy helped drop feet of snow over the Appalachians in 2012.
Reed Timmer breaks down his Top 5 hurricane intercepts.
Extreme meteorologist Reed Timmer has been chasing and intercepting hurricanes for nearly 25 years. Since 1999, Timmer has gone inside the eye of the storm — literally — and witnessed hurricanes in a way that few others would dare attempt. As part of AccuWeather’s Hurricane Week, Timmer counted down the five most memorable hurricanes of his career.
The first hurricane Timmer listed was Category 5 Hurricane Michael in 2018. According to Timmer, it was the most powerful hurricane he’s ever experienced. Other hurricanes that made the list include the “megaflood disaster” caused by Harvey in 2017 and an early-career intercept of one of the costliest hurricanes on record in the United States.
Vicious winds are a huge part of a hurricane’s destructive power, so how can residents of hurricane-prone areas protect themselves and their property? On a recent edition of AccuWeather Prime, AccuWeather Senior Broadcast Meteorologist Adam Del Rosso spoke with James LaDue, the acting director of the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program, on how to do just that. Most recently, LaDue has performed reconnaissance work following Hurricane Ian from Punta Gorda to Fort Myers Beach — two of the hardest-hit areas from the storm.
“The number one thing that I would choose is to get a wind-rated garage door,” LaDue said. “So many houses don’t have them, and if the wind gets into the garage door, inevitably it tries to find a place out somewhere else in the house, and unfortunately that could involve the roof. And that would make the house completely uninhabitable.” His second recommendation was for homeowners to get shingles and roof decking that can resist uplift from hurricane-strength winds. Much of the wind damage from Hurricane Ian was to buildings that didn’t have the modernized codes, according to LaDue. This included metal buildings like hangers, warehouses, as well as older hotels. Older homes had been especially damaged as well. Watch the full interview below.
At the center of every hurricane is the sheer power of wind, which can cause massive amounts of destruction. So how can we prepare our homes for it?
In late March, World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said the names Ian and Fiona have been retired and will not be used in future hurricane seasons following the death and destruction the storms caused in Central America, the Caribbean, United States and Canada. The retirement of these two names brought the total number of retired Atlantic hurricane names to 96 since 1953. Ian and Fiona both developed into major hurricanes last September.
Fiona caused a territory-wide blackout in Puerto Rico along with destructive flooding. Fiona also became the costliest weather event in Atlantic Canada’s history. Ian became the deadliest hurricane in Florida since 1935 after 149 fatalities were reported from the storm. The Category 4 hurricane resulted in damages exceeding $112 billion in the United States alone. The names ‘Farrah’ and ‘Idris’ are due to replace ‘Fiona’ and ’Ian” in 2028.
Hurricane Andrew made history on Aug. 24, 1992, as one of the strongest hurricanes to make landfall when it did so as a vicious Category 5 hurricane — just the third to make landfall in the U.S. since 1935. Since then, only Hurricane Michael in October 2018 has made landfall in the contiguous U.S. as a Category 5 storm. However, Andrew was almost known by a different name.
Four months prior to Andrew’s formation, a subtropical storm — or a storm that has some tropical characteristics but has a pocket of cool air overhead — developed over the Atlantic Ocean on April 21. The storm walked the line between a subtropical storm and a full-fledged tropical system, but ultimately never reached tropical storm status. It is now recorded as Subtropical Storm One by the National Hurricane Center (NHC). Starting in 2002, however, the NHC updated its policy to give subtropical storms a name rather than a number. Had this policy been implemented a decade earlier, the storm that was ultimately named Andrew would have been dubbed Hurricane Bonnie.
A satellite image shows Hurricane Andrew closing in on the Atlantic coast of Florida in late August of 1992.
Portions of southwestern Florida are still in a rebuilding mode following last September’s destructive landfall of Hurricane Ian. AccuWeather National Reporter Bill Wadell recently returned to Fort Myers Beach to speak to affected residents and get a sense of the ongoing recovery. While much of the storm debris has been hauled away, Wadell said there’s a very different look to the town in the aftermath of the storm which unleashed a 15-storm surge in the area. Volunteers that Wadell spoke with said they are going to need more help in the months to come. Watch Wadell’s report below.
AccuWeather’s Bill Wadell returns to Fort Myers Beach, Florida, to check on progress nine months after reporting on the historic damage caused by Hurricane Ian.
For decades, the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale has been utilized to measure the strength of hurricanes, but this scale doesn’t tell the whole story. For that reason, AccuWeather developed the AccuWeather RealImpact™ Scale for Hurricanes in 2019.
The AccuWeather RealImpact™ Scale for Hurricanes categorizes storms on a six-point scale. The AccuWeather RealImpact Scale for Hurricanes has ratings of “Less than one” and “1 to 5.” The “Less than 1” score provides insight on hurricanes and tropical storms that don’t rise to Category 1 strength on the Saffir-Simpson scale. Storms designated with this rating may still cause substantial destruction, injury or loss of life.
The AccuWeather RealImpact™ Scale for Hurricanes is based on a variety of contributing factors, such as flooding rainfall — including inland flooding — high winds and storm surge, as well as the total damage and economic loss from the storm, rather than simply wind speed.
On average, factors such as inland flooding and storm surge are more likely to result in deaths and property damage than wind speed alone. As a result, this unique scale better communicates a more comprehensive representation of a storm’s potential impact on lives and livelihoods so people and businesses can make better decisions when dangerous tropical weather threatens. And we are the only weather provider to offer this differentiated six-point scale.
The decision to evacuate ahead of a life-threatening hurricane might seem like a no-brainer to people who aren’t in harm’s way. However, for those who often have to make the crucial decision, there are many factors to consider. One of the biggest factors is cost. Staying at hotels and eating out for a lengthy stretch of time can be cost-prohibitive for some. Others simply don’t want to leave their pets behind if they aren’t able to bring them along to a shelter or hotel. Watch the report from AccuWeather’s Emmy Victor below for more.
While many people choose to evacuate before a hurricane hits, not everyone does. As AccuWeather’s Emmy Victor explains, there are many reasons behind their decisions.
Despite the danger hurricanes and tropical storms present, Florida had some of the fastest-growing areas by population in 2022. The draw to the area is clear: warm weather, beachside property and low taxes in some cases. However, it's a high-stakes trade-off. "People want to live near the coasts and live near the beach, but that comes with a cost. Unfortunately, we have to bear the brunt of that risk," Stephen Strader, a hazards geographer and professor at Villanova University, told The Washington Post. "There are more people than ever before in the path of these storms. Plus, a lot of people are going to be experiencing a hurricane for the first time."
Florida, Texas and North Carolina had the largest gains from net domestic migration — or the difference between people moving in and out of the state — in 2022, according to data from the U.S. Census. In addition, Florida was the fastest-growing state that year with an annual population increase of 1.9%, Nadia Evangelou, a senior economist and director of Real Estate Research at the National Association of REALTORS®, told AccuWeather in an interview. But while Florida typically has comfortable weather, some homeowners in the state are struggling to find an insurance company that will cover their home, posing the question of how rebuilding would be possible in the case of a storm. Read more here.
After Hurricane Ian impacted Florida in September 2022, Florida resident Joseph Cook began to search for treasure along the coast of St. Augustine. As Cook was strolling down the beach, his metal detector signaled nickel. "I thought for sure it was going to be another nickel. I dug the scoop into the ground, pulled it out, went to look," said Cook.
What Cook discovered was a huge, beautiful diamond ring worth $40,000. Cook immediately took to social media to try and find the ring's rightful owner — a routine process Cook does after he finds rare items. After nearly a month, a couple in Jacksonville contacted Cook to claim the ring. After he verified that it did belong to the couple, he met up with one of the ring's owners and a touching interaction ensued. After returning the ring, Cook nearly immediately found another diamond sparkler, which caused him to claim in a TikTok video that "karma does exist."
Joseph Cook recorded a TikTok video on Hammock Beach in St. Augustine that showed him holding a diamond ring worth $40,000 he had recently discovered. Cook later returned the ring to its rightful owners. (Joseph Cook)
The Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE) index is used to measure the intensity and overall activity of tropical cyclones in a given season. AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Dan Kottlowski says this metric takes into account the strength and duration of each named storm and can be used to compare individual storms and seasons with one another.
ACE factors in the maximum sustained wind of each tropical cyclone that occurs throughout its lifetime. A calculation is done every six hours for each named storm that forms and remains active, and the resulting values are then added up over the entire season.
It’s important to note that the ACE value varies for each basin. According to Kottlowski, the long-term average ACE value for the Atlantic basin is 96 units.
A higher ACE value can indicate a more intense season, potentially with more damaging storms, compared to a season with a lower ACE index, even if there were the same number of named storms. In 2005 and 2017, the ACE values were well above average, according to Colorado State University. The 2005 season had an ACE value of 245.3 with 28 named storms and the 2017 season had a value of 224.9 with 17 named storms.
Storm chaser Reed Timmer breaks down the main components that make up a hurricane including the harsh conditions within the eye region of the storm.
Hurricanes are not only some of the most powerful forces on Earth, but they are also incredibly complex as well. While most people are probably familiar with the eye of the hurricane, there are many other components of these cyclonic storms that many likely have not heard of. For example, a hurricane has four regions known as “quadrants” and each quadrant is different than the other. Click here for a complete analysis of a hurricane’s anatomy.
For Hurricane Week, AccuWeather Meteorologist Tony Laubach explains the difference between the twin threats of wind and water during a hurricane and the dangers they can pose.
While powerful, destructive winds are used to determine the category of a hurricane, storm surge is often the greatest threat to lives and property. Storm surge is the above-normal rise in seawater along the coast that’s generated by a tropical storm or hurricane. These surges exceed normal astronomical tides.
"These tropical cyclones generate enough wind and wave action to pile up water at the leading edge of their forward motion," AccuWeather Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski said. "A moving hurricane causes a large pile-up or a building area of water ahead of its path." To add to the threat, the strong winds heralding in the storm can damage structures ahead of the storm surge, making them more vulnerable to the rushing water. One of the most infamous examples of the devastation caused by storm surge occurred in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and the Mississippi coast. Storm surge flooding of 25 to 28 feet above normal tide level was reported along the latter, and 10 to 20 feet of storm surge was reported along the southeastern Louisiana coast, according to NOAA.
This Sept. 10, 2017 file photo shows waves crashing over a seawall at the mouth of the Miami River from Biscayne Bay, Fla., as storm surge from Hurricane Irma impacts Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
The first subtropical system of the 2023 hurricane season occurred months before the season started. A reassessment of previous weather patterns from the National Hurricane Center (NHC) determined that a system over the Atlantic Ocean in mid-January briefly reached subtropical storm status. A subtropical storm is a system that has some tropical characteristics but has cold air in its core rather than warm air. Despite being reclassified as a subtropical storm, the January system was not given a name. The first named storm of the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season, Arlene, formed last Friday in the Gulf of Mexico.
A zoomed-in view of the subtropical storm that formed over the Atlantic Ocean in January of 2023. (NASA Worldview)
Although it's rare, tropical storms and hurricanes can develop outside of the traditional Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 through Nov. 30. The last time a tropical system formed in January was in 2016 when Hurricane Alex developed over the eastern Atlantic Ocean. January hurricanes were also observed in the Atlantic basin in 1954 and 1938.
Hurricane seasons are often filled with tragedy, due to the death and destruction these powerful storms can produce after making landfall. However, there have been plenty of heartwarming stories over the years involving selfless individuals putting their lives on the line to help others. Whether it’s a good Samaritan or a first responder, AccuWeather is taking time during Hurricane Week to recognize and pay tribute to the heroes of hurricane season.
Amidst all the devastation of a hurricane there is beauty. Neighbors and strangers helping those in need and sometimes saving lives. Lincoln Riddle takes a look at these.
Nearly 60 years after it crashed ashore in Galveston, Texas, Hurricane Carla remains the benchmark for landfalling hurricanes in Texas. The Category 4 hurricane tore through the city in September of 1961 — a time when radar wasn’t widely used in TV weather predictions, but not before one reporter’s innovative broadcast helped communicate the full scale of the impending storm.
Long before he took over the anchor chair at CBS Evening News, Dan Rather was the news director at a small TV station in Houston, KHOU Channel 11. Believing correctly that Carla was on a path toward Galveston, Rather took a cameraman to the island’s office for the U.S. Weather Bureau — a predecessor of the National Weather Service — where there was a new, state-of-the-art WSR-57 radar console. Here, he asked a meteorologist to draw a scaled map of Texas on a transparent sheet of plastic, as the radar had no geographic boundaries. Placing the map over the radar display of Carla, Rather produced the first broadcast of live radar images showing a hurricane.
"As soon as we showed the picture to our studio in Houston, the program director Cal Jones and the whole studio group back at Houston said a collective, 'Wow’,” one KHOU Channel 11 reporter would write decades later. Hurricane warnings prompted an evacuation of islands and low-lying coastal areas of Texas into southwestern Louisiana, which the NWS later determined to be the largest evacuation in U.S. history up to that point in time. The hurricane killed 46 people and injured another 465. In comparison, Hurricane Audrey in 1957 killed at least 416 people in Louisiana and parts of southeastern Texas.
Hurricane Carla as seen by WSR-57 radar at Galveston, Texas, on Sept. 10, 1961. The arrow points out the location of a tornado that occurred near Kaplan, Louisiana. (WikiCommons/NOAA)
Robust clusters of thunderstorms emerging off the northwestern coast of Africa can give birth to a tropical system in the Atlantic basin, but another phenomenon can have the exact opposite effect and can even help to dismantle ongoing hurricanes.
Periodically, strong winds can blow up massive dust clouds over Africa’s Sahara Desert and carry airborne dust over the same regions of the Atlantic Ocean where tropical systems usually develop. The clouds of dust can be so massive that they can be seen from space and may temporarily put a lid on tropical activity around the basin. “A substantial amount of dust and the dry air that often accompanies it can hinder convective precipitation such as showers and thunderstorms,” AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski explained. If the dry, dusty air collides with a hurricane or tropical storm, it can cause the system to lose wind Intensity.
Caption: Satellite imagery of the dust plume from the Sahara trekking across the Atlantic toward the Lesser Antilles on Thursday, May 13, 2021. (NOAA/GOES-16)
The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season was one for the record books with 31 named storms, more than any season on record, and there could have been more storms if not for two massive clouds of Saharan dust that traversed the Atlantic Ocean in June of that year. The dust was so expansive that it reduced the air quality across the southern United States, with dust reported as far north as Tennessee. Dust in the atmosphere can also contribute to colorful sunrises and sunsets.
Back in late March, AccuWeather meteorologists released their initial forecast for the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season. According to the company’s team of tropical weather experts, led by Senior Meteorologist Dan Kottlowski, the total number of named storms is likely to be near the historical average this year.
A total of 11-15 named storms are forecast to develop in 2023, and four to eight of those are predicted to become hurricanes. Of those projected to reach hurricane strength, about one to three are expected to become major hurricanes. A major hurricane is one that has maximum sustained winds of 111 mph or greater and is rated 3–5 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.
“We are also projecting two to four direct impacts on the United States, including Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands,” said Kottlowski, who has been issuing forecasts for AccuWeather for over four decades. Click here for a more detailed breakdown of the hurricane forecast.
Forecasters consider many factors when predicting what will unfold in the Atlantic basin throughout hurricane season. AccuWeather Lead Hurricane Forecaster Dan Kottlowski says it all starts with the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), or a routine climate pattern that occurs when sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean fluctuate. "Two variables that we really try to hone in on as we go through the spring and during the early part of the season is the state of whether we’re going to have an El Niño or La Niña," Kottlowski said. This can impact the wind shear that enters the tropics during the hurricane season.
He and his team then study weather maps and long-range computer forecasts to assess how the weather will play out from the Caribbean to the coast of Africa. “When all that information is put together, and each individual submits their ideas, then we come up with a consensus as to what the upcoming season’s going to look like,” Kottlowski said. The team then revises the forecast based on new information that comes in every day.
Senior meteorologist and lead hurricane forecaster Dan Kottlowski talks about what goes into developing AccuWeather’s annual Hurricane Season Forecast.
Hurricane season in the Atlantic begins on June 1, and experts are urging those who live in hurricane-prone areas along the coast to plan now to protect their homes this season. One way to prepare your home is to put storm shutters over your windows or board them up with wood, which will help prevent debris and strong winds from breaching the home. Using sandbags around your property can also help protect your home from flooding caused by a tropical system. Another way to keep your home safe is to ensure rain gutters are cleared regularly to prevent them from overflowing with water. Here are more ways you can keep your property safe this hurricane season.
Tune into AccuWeather June 5–9 for Hurricane Week, which will showcase AccuWeather’s best-in-the-business hurricane forecasters and cover everything you’ve always wanted to know about these powerful storms, including the incredible stories of survivors and behind-the-scenes tales from reporters.
AccuWeather will present Hurricane Week from June 5-9, helping people to prepare for the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season, which officially begins on June 1. We’ll look back at the destructive 2022 season and follow up with communities still recovering one year after Hurricane Ian, Nicole and Fiona left their marks. The special coverage will feature stories of survival and the heroes who stepped up as disaster struck. Plus, storm chasers and AccuWeather reporters will take you behind the scenes on covering intense hurricanes. Tune in to AccuWeather Network and right here on AccuWeather.com throughout the week for tons of hurricane facts, expert analysis, wild footage from nature’s fiercest tempests and tips that will help you prepare.
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