No major hurricane has made landfall in the continental United States for a record-breaking 129 months, according to data going back to 1851 compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The last major hurricane to make landfall on the continental United States was Hurricane Wilma, which slammed into Florida on Oct. 24, 2005–129 months ago.
The 2016 hurricane season–which officially opened on June 1 and ends on November 30–is expected to be “near normal”, with more hurricane activity than last year’s “below normal” season.
“The outlook calls for a 45% chance of a near-normal season, a 30% chance of an above-normal season, and a 25% chance of a below-normal season,” according to NOAA’s 2016 Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook.
The agency predicts that there will be “10-16 named storms” this season–including “4-8 hurricanes” and “1-4 major hurricanes.” A “major hurricane” is defined as one that is Category 3 or above on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, which means it has sustained wind speeds of more than 111 miles per hour and is capable of causing “devastating” or “catastrophic” damage.
But because of several “competing climate factors” this year, “there is reduced confidence in predicting whether the season will be above normal or below normal,” NOAA stated.
At a May 27 press conference, NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan told reporters that due to the cooling phase of the Atlantic Multi-Decadal Oscillation (AMO), there is “uncertainty about whether the high-activity era of Atlantic hurricanes has ended.”
“During the past three years, weaker hurricane seasons have been accompanied by a shift towards the cool signature of the AMO, cooler Atlantic Ocean temperatures, and a weaker West African monsoon,” Sullivan said.
“If this shift proves to be more than short-lived, if it’s not just a temporary blip, then it could be signaling the arrival of a low-activity era for Atlantic hurricanes.”
The last time the AMO entered a cold phase was the 23-year period between 1971 and 1994, when there were only two above-normal hurricane seasons and half were below normal, said Dr. Gerry Bell, head of NOAA’s hurricane forecasting team.