Active 2012 Atlantic Hurricane Season
( for the videos and pictures go to the link at the end.)
The 2012 Atlantic hurricane season has been a busy one so far. The season-to-date statistics have far outpaced the long-term averages since 1966.
On average, we don’t reach the sixth named storm of the season until September 8. In 2012, we’ve already had more than double this number with a total of thirteen named storms. The number of hurricanes so far this season (seven) already almost equals the average number of hurricanes (eight) in an entire season during the current active era from 1995 to 2011.
From a fast start to a July lull and a record-tying August, we’ve seen many oddities in the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season. Let’s step through these beginning with the 2012 “preseason” storms.
Two Storms Before Season Starts
It’s unusual to get one named storm before the official June 1 start of the hurricane season. In 2012, we saw two storms form in May. Only two other years have seen two named storms before the “official start” of the Atlantic season (1908 and 1887).
Tropical Storm Alberto spun up off the Southeast U.S. coast on May 19. Alberto was the earliest-forming Atlantic tropical storm since Ana in April 2003.
In a bit of deja vu, Subtropical, then Tropical Storm Beryl, formed in roughly the same area that Alberto fizzled, namely, off the Carolinas. However, unlike Alberto, Beryl made a U.S. landfall near Jacksonville Beach on May 28.
With maximum sustained winds of 70 mph, Beryl was the strongest tropical cyclone to make a pre-June 1 U.S. landfall on record.
Beryl brought an otherwise unexpected drought dent for some in the Southeast, and even swamped some previously parched areas of north Florida with flooding rain.
The strange start to the season continued with an odd location for the first Atlantic hurricane.
First Hurricane in an Unusual Spot
Where would you expect the season’s first Atlantic hurricane? Caribbean? Gulf of Mexico? Eastern Atlantic? All good guesses…but all incorrect in 2012.
Hurricane Chris became 2012’s first Atlantic hurricane on June 21 in the open waters of the North Atlantic at a latitude of 41 degrees north, farther north than New York City! Only a single 1893 hurricane was farther north as a hurricane in June than Chris. Only twice before in history (1959 and 1887) has the third named storm of the season formed earlier than Chris.
Not to mention the average date by which we’ve seen the first Atlantic hurricane is August 10.
As many residents of Florida can tell you, the month of June did not end quietly.
Fourth Atlantic Storm….in June!
Debby was christened as a tropical storm on June 23. Tropical storms in the Gulf of Mexico aren’t unusual for June. So what’s the big deal?
Well…it was the record earliest date for the Atlantic season’s fourth named storm, besting the previous record held by 2005’s Dennis (July 5). On average, the fourth named Atlantic storm occurs by August 23, so this took place two full months ahead of that pace!
Though only a tropical storm, Debby was a reminder that it doesn’t take a hurricane to cause major problems. The storm spawned numerous tornadoes and caused significant flooding in the Sunshine State.
Would the fast start to the season carry over into July?
July Goes Quiet
After seeing four named storms by the end of June, things went quiet in July. We did not see a single tropical depression or named storm during the entire month in the Atlantic basin.
Of course, this is not something too atypical for July. Historically, the month has only accounted for about eight percent of the named storms over the course of an entire season. That’s around one named storm each year in July since 1950.
Right as the calendar flipped to August, the season cranked up again.
August Ties a Record
Right as the calendar flipped to August, the Atlantic came back to life with the formation of Tropical Depression Five on the first day of the month. The depression became Tropical Storm Ernesto the very next day.
Ernesto was the first of eight named storms in August 2012. This tied August 2004 for the most named storms to form in the month of August.
Some of these storms rivaled other past active seasons for their earlier than usual arrival.
Early-Forming Named Storms in the Peak of the Season
Some of the named storms that formed from late August into early September rivaled other past very active years (1995 and 2005) for how early they formed in the season.
Tropical Storm Joyce developed on August 23 and tied Jerry from 1995 as the second-earliest forming tenth named storm on record. Only 2005 saw the tenth named storm form earlier (Jose).
Leslie’s formation on August 30 was the second-earliest formation date of the twelfth named storm on record. This was only beaten out by Luis in 1995.
This trend trickled into early September when Michael formed in the open Atlantic Ocean on the fourth day of the month. Only 2005 and 2011 had the thirteenth named storm form earlier than September 4. When Michael reached hurricane status on September 5, it was the third earliest seventh hurricane on record, only behind 1886 and 1893.
The large number of storms through early September caused the first major hurricane to form deeper in the alphabetical named storm list than we’ve ever seen before.
First Major Hurricane Arrives after “I” Storm
On average, the first major hurricane of the season develops around September 4, so Michael’s intensification into a major hurricane on September 6 was right on time. A major hurricane is a Category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.
So, what’s the big deal?
According to weather.com Meteorologist Nick Wiltgen, we had so many named storms (13 total) by early September that the first major hurricane of the season occurred after the “I” storm for the first time since authorities began naming tropical storms and hurricanes in 1950.
There have been four Atlantic seasons since 1950 without a major hurricane at all – 1968, 1972, 1986, and 1994. But those years got no farther than “G” in the alphabet, as 1968 and 1994 had seven total named storms, and the other years had even fewer.
The bottom line is that since 1950, we’ve never made it through the first 11 named storms (A through K) in one season without a major hurricane.
Speaking of hurricanes, it’s interesting to note that two of the strongest hurricanes so far this season have not been where you would typically expect to find them.
Two Strongest Hurricanes in Central Atlantic
Based on top wind speeds, the strongest hurricanes so far in 2012 have not been in the Gulf, Caribbean or in the tropical Atlantic Ocean between Africa and the Leeward Islands. Instead, they have been in the central, or subtropical, Atlantic Ocean.
It started with Gordon, which reached hurricane intensity at a latitude of 34 degrees north. Gordon peaked as a Category 2 hurricane and is one of only six hurricanes to be within 200 nautical miles of Gordon’s position at that time (34.1 N, 36.4 W).
The first major Category 3 hurricane, Michael, was at its peak intensity at a similar latitude around 30 degrees north.
With the rest of September and all of October ahead, be sure to stayed tuned to The Weather Channel and weather.com for the very latest on the 2012 hurricane season.