Thoughts On Hurricane Season

The Atlantic Hurricane Season starts June 1.  Remember, the heart of the season is mid-August to mid-October. So, if there have been no hurricanes by the end of July, it does not mean anything is wrong.

Hurricane & Tropical Storm distribution through the season. Note the peak in mid-September and how quiet the early season usually is. (Climate Central)

Hurricane & Tropical Storm distribution through the season. Note the peak in mid-September and how quiet the early season usually is. (Climate Central)

Just about any question on hurricanes can be answered by the excellent FAQ maintained by the NOAA Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory. Preparation guides are all over the place, one of my favorites is a collaborative effort between NOAA, the American Red Cross, and FEMA.

Seasonal hurricane outlooks are hot items this time of year, but the one thing most in the community agree on: there is a building El Niño, which often yields a less-active-than-normal hurricane season.

This does not mean the whole season will be quiet, it only suggests fewer storms than the long term average (11-12). After all, it only takes one hurricane along your favorite stretch of coastline to make it a devastating season. Hurricane Andrew is the most visible example of this.  Andrew occurred in 1992, a season with only six named storms.

Hurricane Andrew, shortly before landfall in South Florida in August 1992 (NOAA)

Hurricane Andrew, shortly before landfall in South Florida in August 1992 (NOAA)

The statement below is now almost 8 years old, but it bears repeating at the beginning of each hurricane season. It was signed by some of the most prominent individuals in the field of tropical meteorology. In fact, Peter Webster (below) was my tropical meteorology professor while I was at Penn State.

The signers often disagree… sometimes strongly… on whether or not there has been any human-induced change in hurricane frequency and/or intensity. I personally witnessed Chris Landsea and Kerry Emanuel debate the point at a 2007 conference in San Antonio.

In fact, it is increasingly hard to get all of the signers to agree on anything.

However, they all came together on this statement… and it deserves more press.

* * * * *

Statement on the U.S. Hurricane Problem
July 25th 2006

As the Atlantic hurricane season gets underway, the possible influence of climate change on hurricane activity is receiving renewed attention. While the debate on this issue is of considerable scientific and societal interest and concern, it should in no event detract from the main hurricane problem facing the United States: the ever-growing concentration of population and wealth in vulnerable coastal regions. These demographic trends are setting us up for rapidly increasing human and economic losses from hurricane disasters, especially in this era of heightened activity. Scores of scientists and engineers had warned of the threat to New Orleans long before climate change was seriously considered, and a Katrina-like storm or worse was (and is) inevitable even in a stable climate.

Rapidly escalating hurricane damage in recent decades owes much to government policies that serve to subsidize risk. State regulation of insurance is captive to political pressures that hold down premiums in risky coastal areas at the expense of higher premiums in less risky places. Federal flood insurance programs likewise undercharge property owners in vulnerable areas. Federal disaster policies, while providing obvious humanitarian benefits, also serve to promote risky behavior in the long run.

We are optimistic that continued research will eventually resolve much of the current controversy over the effect of climate change on hurricanes. But the more urgent problem of our lemming-like march to the sea requires immediate and sustained attention. We call upon leaders of government and industry to undertake a comprehensive evaluation of building practices, and insurance, land use, and disaster relief policies that currently serve to promote an ever-increasing vulnerability to hurricanes.

Kerry Emanuel
Richard Anthes
Judith Curry
James Elsner
Greg Holland
Phil Klotzbach
Tom Knutson
Chris Landsea
Max Mayfield
Peter Webster

About seansublette

Meteorologist at Climate Central. Broadcast meteorologist in Virginia from 1995 to 2015. Born and raised in Richmond, VA. Penn State alumnus. Loves baseball and the rock band Rush. Views are independent of my employer. Past performance does not guarantee future results.
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