As of today, it has been a record 118 months since the last major hurricane struck the continental United States, according to records kept by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Hurricane Research Division, which list all hurricanes to strike the U.S. mainland going back to 1851.
A major hurricane is Category 3 or higher hurrucine. The last one to strike the continental U.S. was Hurricane Wilma, which made landfall in North Carolina on Oct. 24, 2005.
President Obama is the first president in 122 years, since Benjamin Harrison was in office, who has not seen a major hurricane strike the U.S. during his time in office. In a statement on its website, NOAA expressed concern that Americans might suffer from “hurricane amnesia.”
The second longest stretch between major hurricanes hitting the continenatla U.S. was the eight years between 1860 and 1869, NOAA records show.
“It has been 10 years since Hurricanes Katrina (Aug. 29), Rita (Sept. 23/24) and Wilma (Oct. 24) made landfall along the Gulf Coast during one of the most active hurricane seasons in recorded history,” NOAA said in a statement marking the 10-year anniversary of the 2005 hurricane season.
“Wilma is also the last major hurricane to strike the U.S.–an unprecedented stretch that could unfortunately lead to ‘hurricane amnesia’ for the destruction such a hurricane can cause.”
Such a “drought” in major hurricane activity is “a rare event,” occurring every 177 years, according to a study published in May by researchers at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies entitled The Frequency and duration of U.S. hurricane droughts, who concluded that “the admittedly unusual 9-year U.S. Cat3+ landfall drought is a matter of luck.”
Dr. Gerry Bell, NOAA’s lead seasonal hurricane forecaster, told CNSNews.com that the agency’s seasonal outlooks are “not a hurricane landfall predictor. Where hurricanes strike and how strong they are depends on weather patterns, and there’s no way to predict those patterns months in advance,” he told CNSNews.com.
“What we do know is that we have a cycle in which there are more hurricanes and fewer hurricanes. In 2003, ’04 and ’05, we had one storm after another,” he continued. “Beginning with 2006, we started getting a break, as weather patterns in the Eastern United States steered a lot more storms out to sea. Right now, that is expected to be the overall pattern this year” during hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to November 30.
But Bell warned that storms that are not classified as major hurricanes can still do a tremendous amount of damage.
“We tell coastal residents to prepare every hurricane season, because it only takes one storm to make it a bad year,” he said. Hurricane strength is “only one factor,” he added. The size of the storm surge, whether it spins off tornadoes, and the amount of rainfall created by a slow-moving storm can create as much damage as a major hurricane, he said.
NOAA classifies hurricanes from 1 to 5 on the Saffir-Simpson Scale according to the speed of their sustained winds and the type of damage they inflict.
A Category 3 storm is defined as one with winds between 111 and 129 miles per hour, which can cause “devastating damage” to trees, buildings and infrastructure.
Category 4 hurricanes, with sustained wind speeds between 130 to 156 mph, and Category 5 hurricanes, with winds 157 miles per hour or more, are capable of “catastrophic damage,” according to NOAA.
Only three known Category 5 storms made landfall in the U.S. in modern history: the unnamed Labor Day hurricane that hit the Florida Keys in September,1935; Hurricane Camille, which made landfall in Mississippi in August, 1969; and Hurricane Andrew, which ravaged Florida in August, 1992.
The five deadliest hurricanes in U.S. history were all Category 3 or 4 when they struck the U.S., including the Category 4 storm that hit Galveston, Texas in 1900 that killed as many as 12,000 people.