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Hurricanes by the Numbers

One of the many satellites used by NOAA to track storms.

If you think we’ve seen more tropical storms and hurricanes in recent years, you’re right.  Meteorologists at NOAA are acknowledging that in the latest update of what we can expect during a “typical” Atlantic hurricane season.  At the end of each decade, they revise what are called climate normals to incorporate the most recent 30 years of data.  Since we’re now using hurricane and tropical storm data from 1991 through 2020, that typical season would include:

  • 14 named storms (total tropical storms and hurricanes)
  • 7 hurricanes (categories 1 through 5)
  • 3 major hurricanes (category 3 and above)

That’s in contrast to the old numbers of 12 named storms, 6 hurricanes, and 2 to 3 major hurricanes in a “typical” Atlantic season.  The new numbers indicate that we’re not out of the more active hurricane cycle that we’ve been in since 1995.

Speaking of numbers, here are the maximum sustained wind speeds associated with Atlantic tropical systems:

  • tropical storm                39 through 73 mph
  • category 1 hurricane      74 through 95 mph
  • category 2 hurricane      96 through 110 mph
  • category 3 hurricane      111 through 129 mph
  • category 4 hurricane      130 through 156 mph
  • category 5 hurricane      157 mph and above

There’s also a new date to remember:  May 15.  That’s when the National Hurricane Center will begin their daily Tropical Weather Outlook – a graphic and text summary of what’s happening in the tropical Atlantic now and in the next 2 or 5 days.  You can find it on their homepage through November 30: https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/

Faith Based Events

That’s another change related to our changing hurricane climatology.  While the Atlantic hurricane season “officially” begins on June 1 each year, we’ve seen several recent seasons (including 2020) that had at least one tropical system form earlier.  That’s why the National Hurricane Center is issuing the Tropical Weather Outlook a couple of weeks before June 1 – and it’s another reminder that our new hurricane reality includes longer and more active hurricane seasons.

Donna Thomas has studied hurricanes for two decades. She holds a PhD in history when her experience with Hurricane Andrew ultimately led her to earn a degree in broadcast meteorology from Mississippi State University. Donna spent 15 years at WFOR-TV (CBS4 in Miami-Fort Lauderdale), where she worked as a weather producer with hurricane experts Bryan Norcross and David Bernard. She also produced hurricane specials and weather-related features and news coverage, as well as serving as pool TV producer at the National Hurricane Center during the 2004 and 2005 seasons. Donna also served as a researcher on NOAA's Atlantic Hurricane Database Reanalysis Project. Donna specializes in Florida's hurricane history.