The 11-Year Major Hurricane Drought: Much More Unusual than Two Cat 4 Strikes

Weather.com published an article noting that the two Cat-4 hurricane strikes this year (Harvey and Irma) is a new record. Here’s a nice graphic they used showing both storms at landfall.

Left: Hurricane Harvey makes landfall near Rockport, Texas, on Aug. 25, 2017. |  Right: Hurricane Irma makes its first landfall at Cudjoe Key, Florida, on Sept. 10, 2017 (graphic: Weather.com).

But the statistics of rare events (like hurricanes) are not very well behaved. Let’s look at this new record and compare it to the 11-year-plus period of no major hurricane strikes that ended when Harvey struck Texas.

The Probability of Two Cat 4 Strikes in One Year

By my count, we have had 24 Cat-4 or Cat-5 landfalls in the U.S. between 1851 and 2016. This gives a probability (prior to Harvey and Irma) of one Cat-4+ strike every seven years. It also leads to an average return period of two Cat-4+ strikes of about 50 years (maybe one of you statisticians out there can correct me if I’m wrong).

So, since the average return period is once every 50 years, we were overdue for two Cat-4+ strikes in the same year over the entire 166-year period of record. (Again, for rare events, the statistics aren’t very well behaved.)

The Probability of the 11-Year “Drought” in Major Landfalling Hurricane

In 2015, a NASA study was published which calculated how unlikely the (then) nine-year stretch with no major hurricane landfalls was. They came up with a 177-year return period for such an event.

I used that statistic to estimate what eventually happened, which was 11 years with no major hurricane strikes.

I get a return period of 560 years!

Now, which seems more unusual and potentially due to climate change: something that should happen only once every 50 years, or every 560 years?

Maybe global warming causes fewer landfalling major hurricanes.

Read more at Dr. Roy Spencer’s blog

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Comments (1)

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    Sonnyhill

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    What does the casual observer think. For 11 years, out of sight, out of mind. The hurricane event calendar went blank. Unless someone points this out to them, they might think…”.Katrina, Sandy, Harvey, Irma. Yeah, it’s bad.”
    It was recently said here that “You can lead people to the facts but you can’t make them think” .

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