Hurricane season has been more active than normal this year, with three devastating storms making U.S. landfall in the last month alone.
Hurricanes Harvey and Irma ripped through Gulf Coast states just a couple weeks apart, and Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico early Wednesday and has since left almost the entire island without electricity.
As devastating as these storms are, how does the current Atlantic hurricane season stack up to against past seasons?
“To date, this 2017 hurricane season is comparable in strength to many extremely active seasons that we have seen in the past,” Gerry Bell, a meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “The 2017 season has had 13 named storms, 7 hurricanes, and 4 major hurricanes.”
NOAA forecasted 2017 would be an active hurricane season, predicting an above average number of named storms. So far, however, this hurricane season is the 16th strongest on record in terms of the intensity and duration of storms.
“Looking at the combined intensity and duration of the storms, the 1933 season is estimated to be the strongest on record dating back to 1851, and 2005 is the 2nd strongest,” said Bell, a hurricane expert.
“The 2017 season is currently the 16th strongest on record (if it were to end today) dating back to 1851,” he said. “The 2017 season is currently the 7th strongest since 1995.”
The 2017 season’s strength has shown. Hurricane Irma was one of the strongest Atlantic storms on record, and is longest-lived storm in the satellite record to have maintained maximum winds of more than 185 miles per hour.
Irma left a trail of destruction as it passed over Caribbean islands, including Barbuda, where the storm destroyed 95 percent of the island’s buildings. Irma made landfall in Florida more than one week ago, battering Gulf Coast cities.
Hurricane Maria is still spinning out in the Atlantic as a Category 3 storm with 115 mile per hour maximum sustained wind gusts. Maria is expected to miss the continental U.S. as it moves north through the Atlantic Ocean.
However, comparing recent hurricane seasons to past ones is difficult. Scientists have done their best to reanalyze historical storm data to give a better picture of hurricane activity before modern observation techniques.
In the 1930s, there were no satellites, so storm trackers relied on boats and planes to catch hurricanes. Fewer people, at the time, lived in hurricane-prone parts of the U.S., so it’s hard to know the accuracy of landfall counts.
Despite this, scientists have estimated hurricane activity going beyond the turn of the 20th Century.
Following Atlantic hurricane season in 1933 was incredibly active & 15 of 20 storms hit land. 6 majors and 2 Cat 5’s pic.twitter.com/1rsPc0ptBp
— Ryan Maue (@RyanMaue) September 20, 2017
The 2005 hurricane season likely had more named storms than the 1933 season, but 1933 saw stronger longer-lasting storms. 2005 saw 28 named storms, including 15 hurricanes — seven of those became major hurricanes.
“The 1933 season had 20 named storms,” Bell said. Eleven of those storms became hurricanes, including six major storms.
Don’t write off the 2017 season yet. It’s ongoing and could become the next 1933, some forecasters warn.
— Eric Blake (@EricBlake12) September 20, 2017
Atlantic hurricane season lasts from the beginning of June to the end of November.
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