Wed 30 Nov, 2011 12:08 pm
Hurricane season comes to an end
by Ed Piotrowski - WPDE Newschannel 15's Chief Meteorologist.
November 30th marks the end of the exceptionally active 2011 hurricane season that produced 19 named storms, 7 hurricanes and 3 intense hurricanes. The 19 named storms ties 2011 with 2010,1887 and 1995 for third most named storms in a given season (reliable records go back to 1851). Only 1933 with 21 storms and 2005 with 28 named storms were busier. Despite the high number of named storms, most were underachievers with only 7 reaching hurricane strength. According to Dr. Phil Klotzbach of Colorado State University, unusually dry, stable air and stronger than normal vertical wind shear prevented many storms from becoming hurricanes. In fact, the season began with a record eight consecutive tropical storms that failed to become hurricanes.
Despite all the named storms, Irene was the only hurricane to hit the United States and the first to do so since hurricane Ike made landfall in southeast Texas in 2008. Irene will go down in history as one of the most destructive hurricanes on record for parts of the mid-Atlantic and New England states. Extensive damage was not produced by high wind, but by record rainfall of 10" - 20" from North Carolina to Maine. Three months later, homes, bridges and roads are still being rebuilt. Irene was the deadliest hurricane of the season claiming 55 lives in the Caribbean and United States. Irene was also our only real threat, barely brushing the coast with wind gusts to 50 mph and rainfall of 1" - 4".
The strongest hurricane of the season was Ophelia with top winds of 140 mph (category 4). The longest lived storm was hurricane Philippe which lasted 15 days from Sept 24th - October 8th. Again this year, a major hurricane did not hit the United States. We've now gone 6 consecutive years without a category 3, 4, or 5 hurricane landfall, the longest streak since the 6 year period of 1861-1868. Hurricane Wilma of 2005 was the last major hurricane to hit the U.S.
Why did we luck out this year? Same reason as 2010. The steering currents could not have been more favorable. The huge Bermuda high pressure system that often directs tropical systems right up the southeast coast was positioned farther east than normal. This, combined with persistent troughs of low pressure rolling off the eastern seaboard, effectively turned tropical systems harmlessly out to sea. No less than 12 storms were directed away from the Grand Strand thanks to this pattern. Because the Bermuda high was so far east, another high pressure system anchored itself over the Gulf Coast states. This high pressure system forced any storms or hurricane forming in the Caribbean Sea to head west impacting Central America and Mexico.
The last two seasons are perfect examples of why numbers don't matter. The 2010 & 2011 hurricane seasons produced 38 named storms with only 1 hurricane making landfall along the U.S. coast. While most of the country breathed a collective sigh of relief, there are people in the northeast who will never forget how devastating this hurricane season was. As I always say, it only takes one to make it a bad season!
Hurricane Tracking Chart from the National Hurricane Center:
That was an anticlimactic year! I want my season ticket refunded.