Since the year 2000, it would appear that tropical storms and hurricanes are happening more frequently, and with more intensity. Are hurricane seasons becoming progressively worse? There are lots of differing opinions within the scientific community. To form your own opinion, it’s helpful to assess the number and types of storms we’ve experienced in this decade.
The first year of the new century saw a total of 4 tropical depressions, 7 tropical storms, and 8 hurricanes. The most significant storm of the 2000 year was Hurricane Keith, which caused numerous fatalities and was blamed for considerable amounts of damage in Belize, Nicaragua, and Honduras.
The 2001 season was an unusual year, with no storms actually making landfall in the United States. Hurricane Iris caused major damage in Belize when it made landfall there as a Category 4 storm. Hurricane Michelle was also a severe storm, causing numerous deaths and major damage in Jamaica, Cuba, Honduras, and Nicaragua.
During the first 21 days of September 2002, there were 8 newly formed storms, which made that month per record.
The 2003 Atlantic hurricane season was another record-breaker. Traditionally, the hurricane season runs from June 1 through November 30. However, in 2003, Storm Ana formed on April 20th, which started the season early for the first time in fifty years. During 2003, there were 21 tropical cyclones, 16 of which formed to named storms and 7 of which reached hurricane status. The strongest of them was Hurricane Isabel, which formed near the Lesser Antilles and landed in South Carolina as a Category 2 hurricane. Isabel caused $3.6 billion in damage and was blamed for 51 deaths from the Mid Atlantic region of the USA.
The 2004 hurricane season was another extended calendar year, with the season extended into December. Hurricane Otto was in charge of this extension, with the storm lasting two days to the month of December. 2004 was also noted as one of the most costly and deadly years on record, with 3,132 deaths and roughly $50 billion U.S. dollars in damage caused by hurricanes and tropical storms.
The 2005 Atlantic hurricane season was noted as “most active,” with 5 storms making U.S. landfall: Dennis, Emily, Katrina, Rita, and Wilma. The most catastrophic effects of the season were felt in New Orleans and neighboring areas of the Louisiana shore when a 30-foot storm surge from Hurricane Katrina caused widespread flooding and deaths.
The 2006 Atlantic hurricane season was a not as active season than 2005. Like 2001, it was an unusual year in that no hurricanes really made U.S. landfall.
In 2007, the season was off to an early start with the formation of subtropical storm Andrea on May 9, 2007. The season also conducted late this year, with tropical storm Olga developing on December 11, after the season was officially over. Total damage was estimated at $7.5 billion U.S. dollars, and the death toll was recorded in 416. Also noteworthy is the fact that 2007 was one of four years that had more than one Category 5 storm. 2007 was also the second season on record where more than 1 storm created U.S. landfall on the same day (Felix and Henrietta).
Are hurricanes and other tropical storms getting worse? Much of the U.S. public might think so, especially with the shock of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which made headlines for many months following the storm. In fact, to this day, New Orleans has still not fully recovered from this storm. As to whether or tropical storms are actually getting more frequent and more severe, we’re not really sure yet. One thing we do know is that record-keeping is far more accurate today than it was some fifty years back. Only time will tell what the pattern of hurricanes may do in the next few years. In the meantime, we can learn from the past by preparing for the future.