Get AccuWeather alerts right in your browser!
Enable Notifications

How is the intensity of hurricane season measured?

By Courtney Barrow, AccuWeather staff writer

Accumulated cyclone energy, or ACE, measures the strength of hurricanes and tropical storms over their duration. It allows meteorologists to compare different storms and seasons.

"We can classify how active a basin is for a particular season by defining the total ACE for that season plus the number of storms and major hurricanes," said AccuWeather Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski.

Irma thumbnail

GOES-16 satellite image of Hurricane Irma churning near Puerto Rico on Sept. 6, 2017. (Image/NOAA)

"The higher the ACE value for each storm, the stronger and potentially higher impacts it creates," he said.

The ACE value for a season in a particular region is the sum of the ACE of every tropical storm and hurricane that year. The average ACE value in the Atlantic Basic is about 92 units. An above-average season is about 111; a below-average season is 66.

It's only in recent history this measurement could be used for all storms, not just those that impacted land. Prior to the satellite era (before 1966), there was no way to track tropical storms that remained at sea. Once geostationary satellites were launched into the Earth's orbit in 1975, scientists had a more complete picture of the oceans to measure storms.

ACE infographic

The highest ACE ever reported for a hurricane was the San Ciriaco hurricane in 1899; the lowest ever recorded was 1.2 in 1959.

5 expert tips for protecting your home against hurricane damage
5 potentially dangerous hurricane preparation myths debunked
5 deadliest hurricane-related dangers
How do hurricanes get their names?

The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was very active with three storms with high ACE values. Hurricanes Irma, Maria and Jose reached 66.6, 44.6 and 42.2 units, respectively.

According to Colorado State University, the 2017 season had an ACE value of 226. Kottlowski said that if the ACE value had reached over 230 units, it would have been one of the most active hurricane seasons on record.

Report a Typo


Comments that don't add to the conversation may be automatically or manually removed by Facebook or AccuWeather. Profanity, personal attacks, and spam will not be tolerated.

More Weather News