People often display a lack of collective memory when it comes to something devastating like hurricanes. With several storms having already caused severe damage to the US in 2018 and Hurricane Michael currently blasting its way through Florida and into Georgia, it is tempting to think that there is an abnormally large number of hurricanes this year. However, what is the truth?
The fact is that there really have been a lot of hurricanes making landfall in the US this year. However, there really hasn’t been much of an increase when compared to the average. Rather, over the past decade, there have been fewer hurricane landfalls in the US than normal, with some exceptions.
The problem is that when there are several years of below-normal hurricane landfalls, followed by a year with a close to the normal number of strikes, it can seem like there are more than normal hurricanes hitting the US.
In no way does this make light of the tremendous damage and loss of life that any hurricane can cause. It is merely being pointed out that 2018 is shaping up to be a ‘normal’ hurricane year after several years of quiescence.
This year is a long way from being a record-setter in regard to the number of hurricanes striking the US. Granted, there is still plenty of time to go in the current hurricane season. The average of the number of named tropical storms, hurricanes, and major hurricanes that hit the US every year is 20. Of those 20, two of them are normally major hurricanes; category 3 or above.
Hurricane Michael was a category 4 hurricane when it made landfall in the Florida panhandle. While a major hit on the Florida panhandle is rare, the state is often hammered by hurricanes. According to NOAA, 88% of all hurricanes striking the US hit either Florida or Texas. This is a huge percentage of the total and it shows that Hurricane Michael isn’t especially unusual, despite the damage it has and continues to cause.
Incidentally, as an informational tidbit, during El Nino years, there are normally fewer hurricane strikes on the US. Although El Nino is a Pacific Ocean current, it normally causes a wind shear effect that forces hurricanes away from the US. This could indicate that this year might not be an El Nino year and might be a La Nina year.
In regard to years with a lot of strikes, there were 33 hurricane or named tropical storm strikes in the US in 2010. In 2005, there were 43. Conversely, in 2013 and 2014, there were 15 tropical storms and hurricanes that hit the US and in 2015, there were 16. The numbers for 2015 and 2010 are well above average, while 2013, 2014, and 2015 were well below average, but it also needs to be understood that our ability to measure and detect the storms has also been increasing over the past couple of decades. There are far more weather stations now, detection techniques have become more accurate, and satellites are in place that can get much better readings of the storms.
Still, resist the urge to think that 2018 has been a year with far more hurricanes hitting the US than normal. It really isn’t.