Friday, November 30, 2012

Hurricane Season 2012: A Three-Peat

2012: Named storms: 19, hurricanes: 10, major: 1
Watch a loop of the entire 2012 season here:
The 2012 Hurricane season comes to an end and for a record third year in a row 19 named storms formed.  A more "normal" season was expected due to El Niño, which never materialized.  Instead, the year will be remembered for three land falling storms.  Even though no "major" (cat 3 or higher) hurricane has hit the U.S. since Wilma in 2005, the two that did hit this year caused widespread flood and storm surge damage.  The cost from Sandy are still mounting, $100 billion and counting.  It may finally be time to reconsider "how" storm threats are communicated.

The season got off to a fast start with a record four storms developing during the first month.  I must admit, I doubted whether or not two of those first four were valid.  Tropical Storm Alberto didn't seem very organized and Hurricane Chris looked more like an extra-tropical storm in the North Atlantic.  Then, along came Tropical Storm Debby at the end of June giving forecasters fits.  The first projection positioned the storm toward Texas.  It eventually drenched most of the Florida panhandle over the course of nearly a week.

Then things got very quiet in July as no storms developed.  August did a 180°, and it seemed a new blossomed every few days with a total of eight for the month.  Few were a real threat until Isaac, which drew comparisons with another "I" storm - Ike.  That was mainly due to its size:

However, no two storms are ever alike and each poses unique threats.  Isaac while large was slow-moving once it entered the Gulf.  Also slow was the declaration of Isaac to hurricane status, which may have delayed the action of some in the storm's path.  Eventually Isaac dumped nearly two feet of rain in the Mississippi delta, leaving behind scenes like this from New Orleans:

After Isaac, it looked like the season might be over.  Only two storms formed in the usually busy month of September.  Among them was the strongest of the season; but Cat. 3 Michael meandered harmlessly in the central Atlantic.  Then things got active again in October, capped off by the SuperStorm - Sandy.

I recall watching the long-range computer models about ten days out hinting at something developing in the Caribbean.  I thought the model was over-doing it until it persistently continued with that forecast.  Eventually, of course a storm did form, roaring to Cat 2 status wreaking havoc first in Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.  Then for the second time in as many years, the East Coast of the U.S. braced for a possible hurricane strike.  But unlike last year's Irene, Sandy would strengthen before slamming into the coast.

People from the Carolinas to New England suffered some kind of damage.  The highest impact came to Coastal New York and New Jersey with a deadly combination of torrential rain and storm surge flooding accompanied by winds that knocked out power to millions. 
The land falling storm collided with cold air bringing early record snowfall to West Virginia.  Even as people struggle to recover in the hardest hit areas, the economic impacts of Sandy continue to mount:
On this last day of the season, the hurricane center is watching a swirl in the southern Atlantic with only a slight chance of developing.  It's doubtful that the season will extend into December, though.  The last time that happened was 2007, when Olga formed in the Caribbean in December of that year.
It's a long way to June 2013, and hopefully, that year's tally won't reach as high as the last three.

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