Thirty years ago, the Americas enjoyed one of the lightest hurricane seasons ever.
Just three hurricanes — Arlene, Emily and Floyd — formed in 1987 from seven tropical storms between August and October.
In December of that year, then St. Petersburg Times noted that only Floyd made landfall in the U.S. The storm “shambled weakly up the Florida Keys for a couple days in October,” causing little damage.
If only 2017 were the same. Harvey. Irma. Maria. Seventeen named storms — including ten hurricanes — battered the Caribbean and Florida in what’s estimated to be the costliest season ever.
Only five other years had more named storms than 2017, and only four have had more hurricanes since 1966, when tracking became more precise.
Named storms, 1966-2017
In the years before 1987, storms had become weaker and less frequent. Between 1966 and 1987, only one year saw more than 15 named storms or ten hurricanes.
“Hurricane experts view the downward trend as a cycle that may now be changing,” the Times reported then.
Indeed, since then, busy hurricane seasons have been much more regular. On average, years after 1987 have seen 13.5 named storms and 6.9 hurricanes.
"Experts say it’s not yet clear whether there’s a clear, long-term trend.
But, as the National Hurricane Center’s Chris Landsea told Politifact, sea-level rise caused by climate change could boost the storm surge for every hurricane by two feet by the end of the century, causing worse flooding.
Scientists were struggling with these same questions in 1987, when Floyd broke a streak of years without hurricanes forming in the northwest Caribbean.
“Is this a trend? We just don’t know,” Bob Case of the NHC told the Times. “But,” he said, giving a warning that rang true again in the spring of 2017, “we’re in a drought and here’s the scary part: Millions and millions of people have come to Florida and built their beautiful homes along the coast and have never experienced a hurricane.”