The 2016 Hurricane Season technically began back in January – which could have led many to further add to the unusual winter season the United States experienced last winter. Further, the 2016 hurricane season went on to claim 15 named storms, with seven of them making it to official hurricane status (table 1).
Three of the seven hurricanes became major hurricanes. The most active month – as one may suspect – was September. This is not surprising nor anomalous to peak hurricane season. Figure 1 to the left shows the latest preliminary hurricane season tracks for all storms we saw this year. We see two sets of popular area where storms generally went: the mid-Atlantic or into the Caribbean, emphasis on the former.
With reference to the hurricane season beginning in January, we saw Hurricane Alex – which caused no damage nor fatalities. A pretty seamless hurricane in itself, only moving through Bermuda – it reached barely Hurricane strength.
Alex is of note because of its unique nature forming in January – being the first to do so since 1938, and the first hurricane to maintain continuous hurricane status in January since 1955. (You may see all the tropical systems and its associated maximum wind speeds, top tropical strength achieved, and name in Table 1 later in this article.)
Early season parameters and indicators
Coming off a much warmer winter last year, sea-surface temperatures (SST) were already warm heading into the spring across the Atlantic. A look back on the full global temperatures to the right shows about where we were at the beginning of May. We see the “sweet spot” of warmer than average temperatures off the coast of West Africa and into the Caribbean.
We like to look at the SST anomalies in the spring to help gauge how much “warmth” is existing in the Atlantic Ocean as a precursor for what is to come during prime hurricane season. This warmth, in turn, helps to fuel the tropical environment for tropical storm development.
All else aside, a warmer than average winter and above average SST anomalies led us to be all primed up for an active hurricane season going into summer 2016. We did not have to wait long: Tropical Storm Bonnie formed at the end of May.
Hurricane Season forecast
Let’s take a look at what the National Hurricane Center was thinking back when it made its prediction for the season:
As it turns out, the forecast was correct, with all three categories verifying to the forecast. While concerns of a hyperactive season was there, anything above 17 named storms is considered “hyperactive” by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
We did not reach the hyperactive season status – which can sometimes be used as a key indicator for how early winter will go in the eastern U.S. This was, indeed, an average season.
Hurricane season (June 1 – November 30)
Without further a due, let’s dive into what happened during the season. Table 1 gives a nice overview of all the tropical storms, and its max wind speed, name, and highest strength:
Hurricanes Gaston, Matthew, and Nicole are the bread winners for major hurricanes this year, defined at category three (>111MPH max wind speed) or stronger on the Saffir-Simpson Scale. Statistically, around September 11 is the peak hurricane season date – if we were to put an exact date on it. Interestingly enough, two of the three major hurricanes this year occured before or after this magical date. Hurricane Gaston ended in early September; Matthew began at the end of September. Hurricane Gaston became the first longest-living hurricane since 2012.
Hurricane Matthew is probably the biggest hurricane deserving of discussion; the strongest hurricane of the season, as well. It became the first category 5 hurricane since Hurricane Felix in 2007, and it was highly destructive for many locations. 49 deaths in the U.S. resulted from Matthew, with ~$5.5-7.5 billion in damage in the United States. Matthew goes down as one of the costliest Atlantic hurricanes (since Hurricane Sandy in 2012), and in the top ten in history for total impact.
2016 Hurricane season round-up
Overall, it was an average hurricane season for the Atlantic. Aside from Hurricane Matthew – which was the worst hurricane – all other storms were routine. Matthew was the single major hurricane that impacted the continental United States, as well. Other anomalies included Hurricane Alex in an unusual January setting, credit given to an above average winter at the time.
As previously mentioned, Atlantic hurricane seasons can have an impact with how early and hard winter hits the eastern United States. Typically a hyperactive tropical season would merit a harsher December for the east, but no signs of that are out there for this year, since we remained under hyperactive status. We still have quite a warm Atlantic ocean right now, so it will be interesting to see how the winter plays out as we head into the heart of it in about a month or so.