The 2022 hurricane season, which ends today, will be logged into history as turning out pretty much as forecasters predicted when it comes to the number of storms and their severity.
There were anomalies, however. The season started quickly, with a named storm forming within its first week. There was a historic lull in the middle. Then the tropics ramped up to a breakneck speed near the end.
Florida didn’t come away unscathed. This year produced one of the deadliest storms in the state’s history — Hurricane Ian. The powerful Category 4 storm left what were once picturesque coastal destinations in shambles. And Hurricane Nicole, a historically late-forming storm, hit Florida’s east coast earlier this month, causing parts of waterfront homes to dump into the Atlantic.
But the season was entirely average in terms of the amount of storms the Atlantic produced.
“The 2022 season falls into the category of an average Atlantic hurricane season, but that’s not to say it was not impactful,” Alex DesRosiers, a doctoral candidate in Colorado State University’s Atmospheric Science Department, said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration releases outlooks prior to the hurricane season each year. The agency predicted at least 14 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes. Colorado State University, which has a renowned tropical weather and climate research team, makes a similar outlook each year. The university called for 18 named storms, eight hurricanes and four major hurricanes.
The hurricane season comes to a close today with 14 named storms, eight hurricanes and two major hurricanes — a close mesh of the two predictions.
“It was adequately predicted, but there’s a difference between the seasonal prediction of general characteristics and having a hurricane in your backyard,” Hugh Willoughby, a research professor at Florida International University’s Department of Earth and Environment, said.
There were a few factors that influenced the amount of tropical activity this year. Saharan dust choked tropical development in August, while La Niña stoked it later in November.
La Niña years generally produce more Atlantic storms and fewer Pacific storms, DesRosiers said. Forecasters say La Niña may recede a bit early next year.
The season started quickly, with Tropical Storm Alex forming just five days after the official start of the hurricane season. Only two other named tropical systems, Bonnie and Colin, formed in the first half of the season. They developed on July 1 and 2.
Then there was radio silence until Sept. 1.
“This unusual quiet period was a surprise to all in the seasonal forecasting community,” DesRosiers said.
From July 3 to Aug. 31, the Atlantic did not produce a single named storm. The last time this occurred was the year Pearl Harbor was attacked.
DesRosiers said Saharan dust could have contributed to the lack of activity, but that’s just part of the story. Unexpectedly strong wind shear and drier air also played a part in the historic drought. For now, it’s impossible to know the exact condition, or combination of conditions, that led to the dry spell without further research, DesRosiers said.
On Sept. 1, what would later be known as Hurricane Danielle formed and the season was no longer on snooze. September had seven named storms, including Hurricane Ian, which devastated Southwest Florida, killed more than 100 people and left months, if not years, of recovery ahead for residents.
Ian was nearly a Category 5 storm when it made landfall in Cayo Costa in late September.
In October, generally one of the most active months of the season, only three named storms formed. The short slow down in the season was welcomed, as parts of Florida recovered from Ian.
In November, La Niña and warm tropical waters fueled three more named storms in the Atlantic, including Hurricane Nicole, which made a historically late landfall.
It was the first storm to make a November landfall in Florida since 1985 and the second latest hurricane landfall in the United States in recorded history. Nicole was a Category 1 storm when it made landfall near Vero Beach. It caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage along the east coast.
The last few weeks of the hurricane season have been blissfully quiet, bringing an end to a season that was less active than recent years, which Willoughby said have been very active by historical standards. 2020 was the most active season on record with 30 named storms, and 2021 was the third most active with 21.
“That’s sort of ominous from the point of view of climate change,” Willoughby said.
While climate change can’t be attributed to a single storm or even a single hurricane season, there is scientific evidence to support that climate change allows storms to intensify more rapidly, DesRosiers said.
In just 36 hours, Ian went from a tropical storm to Category 4 hurricane. Even after hitting western Cuba, Ian was able to reintesify quickly. In just eight hours, the storm’s wind speeds increased from 120 to 155 mph, just 2 mph shy of a Category 5 storm.
DesRosiers said Ian’s powerful storm surge is also something to keep in mind when thinking of climate change and rising sea levels. Storm surge was the biggest killer during Ian.
And just a few weeks ago, photos from the aftermath of Hurricane Nicole showed large chunks of Daytona Beach Shores eroded during the storm. Nicole also prompted evacuations for at least two dozen condo buildings in Daytona Beach Shores and New Smyrna Beach that were deemed unsafe.
“Hurricanes happen,” Willoughby said. “You’re sad for the suffering they cause, but it does make the situation clearer. And it’s clearer in the wrong direction.”
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