Taking stock of the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season
Sightseers watch waves crash on shore as Hurricane Dorian made its way off the Florida coast Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019, in Ormond Beach, Fla.
If there are no late surprises, the 2019 Atlantic Basin hurricane season officially will conclude Saturday, Nov. 30, with no further activity. AccuWeather “calls for no organized tropical activity across the basin the rest of this week and through the weekend,” said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Dan Kottlowski, the company’s top hurricane expert.
The season may come to a nondescript end, but it was unique in several ways.
During the course of the 2019 hurricane season, which officially began on June 1, there were 18 named storms, a total that included 10 tropical storms, two subtropical storms, two Category 1 hurricanes, one Category 2 hurricane and three major hurricanes (Category 3 or higher).
AccuWeather estimates the total damage and economic loss caused by named storms in 2019 to be $22 billion in the U.S. and an additional $5 billion in the Bahamas, according to AccuWeather Founder and CEO Dr. Joel N. Myers, based on an analysis incorporating independent methods to evaluate all direct and indirect impacts of the storms based on a variety of sources.
AccuWeather’s estimate includes, among other factors, damage to homes and businesses, as well as their contents and cars, as well as job and wage losses, farm and crop losses, storm surge to coastal areas, contamination of drinking water wells, infrastructure damage, auxiliary business losses and the long-term impact from flooding, in addition to the lingering health effects resulting from flooding and the disease caused by standing water.
The 2019 total includes AccuWeather estimates of three major storms, plus the combined damages and losses estimated from other 2019 storms.
AccuWeather estimated the economic impacts for three storms at the time they approached, predicting damages of $8 to $10 billion for Hurricane Barry, $10 billion total for Hurricane Dorian ($5 billion in the U.S., $5 billion in the Bahamas) and $8 billion for Tropical Storm Imelda.
“Tropical Storm Imelda is a great example of the value of AccuWeather RealImpact™ Scale for Hurricanes that we invented,” Myers said back in September as the storm approached. “It would be easy to dismiss Imelda since it is not a hurricane but a tropical storm, but the rain and subsequent flooding is the main source of what will be substantial damage.”
AccuWeather’s RealImpact™ Scale for Hurricanes is a revolutionary new scale introduced in January based on a broad range of important factors to help people and businesses better understand the full impact of hurricanes and tropical storms. It is based on four very important contributing factors: high winds, of course, but also flooding rain, storm surge and the financial damage and economic impact from the storm. (For more details, click here.)
Given the major flooding with a high risk to lives and property in Texas and Louisiana, Imelda was rated as a 3 on the AccuWeather RealImpact Scale for Hurricanes. The scale also proved valuable in forecasting damages and economic loss for Dorian, which AccuWeather accurately estimated ahead of time to be a 5 on the AccuWeather RealImpact Scale for Hurricanes in the Bahamas and a 2 in the southeastern U.S.
The 2019 season is less costly than AccuWeather's estimates for the 2018 ($80-90 billion) and 2017 ($290 billion) seasons, which included Hurricanes Florence and Michael in 2018 and Hurricanes Harvey, Maria and Irma in 2017, among others. Each of those hurricanes caused more estimated total damage and economic loss than the combined total of 2019 storms.
AccuWeather predicted in April that there would be 12 to 14 named storms including tropical storms and hurricanes. NOAA predicted a much broader range of 10 to 17 named storms. AccuWeather also forecast five to seven hurricanes (there were six), two to four major hurricanes (there were three), two to four landfalling named storms (there were four) and an Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE) forecast of 100-120 units compared to a normal of 92. The total is at 129.8 in late November, just before the season’s official end. NOAA predicted five to nine hurricanes and two to four major hurricanes.
“We predicted the hurricane total right, we predicted the major hurricane total right and the reason there were more total storms than we predicted is that there were subtropical storms and other storms that in past years might not even have been named,” said Myers. “Clearly, there was more hurricane energy [ACE] than we predicted – we said it would be above normal, but it was even outside of that range.”
Seven of the 18 storms in 2019 lasted 24 hours or less as a named storm – “the most extremely short-lived named storms [in one season] on record,” according to Colorado State University meteorologist Philip Klotzbach, who specializes in Atlantic Basin hurricane forecasts. The old record was six set in 2005.
Only seven Atlantic Basin hurricane seasons since 1851 had more than 18 named storms, and five of those seasons have occurred since 1995 (2012, 2011, 2010, 2005 and 1995). The other two were in 1933 and 1887.
It is the fourth straight year there were at least two U.S.-landfalling hurricanes (Barry and Dorian). That’s the longest streak since 1947-50 and only twice since 1851 has the streak reached at least five years (1932-36 and 1876-82).
Also, eight of the 18 named storms had maximum sustained wind readings of 52 mph (45 knots) or lower. Winds of that speed are categorized in the lower end of the tropical storm category, which ranges from 40 to 73 mph (34 to 63 knots).
Consequently, just six of the 18 named storms reached hurricane strength, making it just the fifth season in the satellite era (since 1966) to have 33 percent or fewer of Atlantic named storms become hurricanes (including 1982, 2002, 2009 and 2013), according to Klotzbach.
The Atlantic hurricane season officially lasts from June 1 through Nov. 30, when 98.4 percent of hurricanes have occurred in the Atlantic Basin; however, hurricanes can form in any month. Counting 2019, all 297 hurricanes that have made landfall in the continental U.S. since 1851 occurred during hurricane season.
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