Hurricane: It only takes one
As we head toward the heart of the 2011 Atlantic Hurricane season we are often reminded by media outlets of the predictions. Most focus on how many storms there will be and how many major hurricanes can we expect (category 3 or higher). While these are certainly interesting and important statistics, we often lose sight of landfall as a key aspect to watch. It only takes one storm to have a major impact on life, property, and the economy.
For 2011 the story is not all that different as compared to recent years. Predictions range from 12-18 named storms. The most famous forecast is that of Dr. Gray’s team at Colorado State states 17 named storms can be expected. They elaborate further in suggesting 9 storms will attain hurricane strength, and that 5 will reach major status. This would mean another very active season could be in store. However none of these forecasts can say for sure how many of these storms will make landfall.
In looking at how an active season can have low impact, or how a relatively inactive season can have high impact one can look at the 2010 and 1992 Atlantic seasons. In the first of the two scenarios (active with low impact), most would never remember 2010 was tied for the third most active season on record with 19 named storms. In fact most people in the US falsely deem it as a year without many storms. The reason they feel this way is because only 3 storms made landfall in North America (1 in the US), they were relatively weak. Two were tropical storms and Hurricane Earl made landfall as a category 1 in Nova Scotia Canada. Not many people give much thought to the others unless they were an old salt on the Atlantic or a fish. In the second scenario (inactive with high impact), 1992 is the prime example as category 5 Hurricane Andrew devastated South Florida. At the time it was the costliest hurricane in US history only to be surpassed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The storm left 26 dead and a recovery period that would consume much of that remaining decade. Most would deem the 1992 season as one to remember and with that in mind it is a clear example that it only takes one.
Most likely the heavy focus on predictions in recent years stems from the record 2005 season which had both high impact and high activity. 28 named storms developed that year and there were multiple landfalls. Certainly nobody will forget Katrina and its impacts (many of which still are felt today). Additionally 2004 saw 4 landfalls alone in FL, which cast hurricanes in the spotlight well before 2005′s season began. Finally the debate over climate change (especially in the political world) has also resulted in the number of storms being of increased importance.
In closing I would simply say that no matter how many storms are forecasted in a given year, everyone along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts should be prepared. It is also important to heed the advice of local agencies and authorities for hazards specific to your area. If you are not ready, now would be the time to make your plan just in case. Once again one should always keep in mind that it only takes one.