The beginning of December is known by most as the beginning of the Holliday Season, but in the field of tropical meteorology, it means the end of the Atlantic Hurricane Season.  The season lasts from June 1st to November 30th.  This year was one for the record books, with an early start and what can only be described as an onslaught of storms at its climax.

“The Terrible Three” of Hurricane Irma, Jose, and Katia threatening land in the Caribbean, along with Central and North America.

Early Outlook and Setup

Multiple agencies within the academic, government, and private sectors issue outlooks for the hurricane season during the first half of the year.  But the weather waits for no forecast.  Before some agencies had even issued their outlooks, Tropical Storm Arlene was spinning away in the central Atlantic on April 16th.

Arlene turned out to be a sign of what was to come, along with a several indicators that meteorologists use.  This year, several indicators were pointing to a stronger than average season.  Yielding NOAA to issue above average numbers for named systems, hurricanes, and major hurricanes (Category 3-5).

Ready, Set, Cyclone

The beast of the Atlantic Basin remained quiet until late June, when Tropical Storm Cindy made landfall in Louisiana. Cindy’s primary threat was excessive rainfall, and was the first landfalling storm for the state since 2012.  Miscellaneous storms followed that stayed in open waters, until Hurricane Harvey moved into the western Gulf.

Harvey remained disorganized for what felt like ages, until the circulation organized rapidly into a Category 4 Storm, with winds up to 130mph.  The major hurricane then made landfall in Texas, but another threat was shaping up over the coming week.  Due to blocking high pressure, the storm was held in place, turning a veritable firehose onto Eastern Texas.  Houston and the surround areas saw astonishing amounts of rainfall, and flooding that obliterated longtime held records in the Lone Star State.

Hurricane Harvey as it made landfall as a major hurricane. While the strength at landfall was significant, the flooding seen in Houston was the most impactful element.

Harvey was the leader of the major Hurricanes that were set to follow, as the season reached its crescendo.  Suddenly Irma, Jose, and Katia were barreling into the Gulf, all threatening land.  The shear duration of and intensity of Irma was one of the highest ever recorded, based on accumulated cyclone energy.  Irma wreaked havoc all along the Greater Antilles, all the way until it’s US landfall in the Florida Keys.

Hurricane Irma at its peak strength in the Caribbean, with sustained winds of 185mph.

Next was Maria, which decimated Puerto Rico as a strong Category 4.  It’s infrastructure and economy have taken a massive blow, and is expected to take decades to recover.  Maria caused tens of billions of dollars in damage, and over 100 fatalities directly related to the storm.  From there a few other miscellaneous storms fired up, including Ophelia which took an unexpected dive through England.

Fantastic Forecasts

When the dust finally settled, 2017 had seen 18 named storms, 10 hurricanes, and 6 major hurricanes.  These number outperformed almost every forecast, even as most called for an active season.  The total fatalities is subject the change, with currently over 400.  Damage costs are currently at over 350 billion dollars, the costliest season on record.

While the 2017 season caused destruction, hardships, and unfortunately fatalities within the Atlantic Basin.  One silver lining was the forecasts issued by the National Hurricane Center.  This year’s forecasts were significantly more accurate with the use of new technology and knowledge about tropical cyclones.  More accurate forecasts means earlier warnings, and more people out of harms way for tropical systems.

“NOAA’s preliminary data show that the National Hurricane Center issued forecasts with record-setting accuracy. And track forecasts for the three most damaging hurricanes were about 25 percent more accurate than average.” -NOAA

With the season finally at a close, what might next years season look like?  For that, we will have to wait and see when NOAA issues its 2018 outlook in May.

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About Kevin Thiel

Kevin is a Meteorology Major and Mathematics Minor at Ohio University, with an interest for thunderstorm electrification and research. On campus, he serves as President of the AMS Student Chapter, along with Webmaster and Forecaster for the campus atmospheric lab. This past summer, Kevin interned at the National Weather Service office in Miami, Florida, using lightning and radar data to study severe thunderstorm potential. One day, Kevin hopes to enter into field of academia and research, or become a forecaster with the Storm Prediction Center.

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