Hey Brian, I have one for your Q&A. We hear all of the talk about hurricane season starting sooner because of recent May storms. My question is whether we’ve just been in a cycle that’s been producing earlier storms. I recall how after the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons we were conditioned to believe that was the “new normal”. After that we didn’t have a hurricane to worry about for over a decade.
Bottom Line: The short answer is that I don’t know, and we won’t know if that’s the case until it either ends, or it doesn’t years into the future. That said, you raise a good point regarding recency bias when it comes to known hurricane cycles. After the then record setting 2005 hurricane season you referenced, which produced 28 named storms and didn’t end until January; the 2006 season brought about only 10 named storms, a historically below-average season which was the most benign in ten years. In fact, only two of the next twelve years resulted in above average activity. There no doubt has been a cyclical nature to tropical development patterns previously. After getting hit by four hurricanes in two years during that 2004-2005 hurricane cycle, it wasn’t until Hurricane Irma in 2017, that southeast Florida faced hurricane force winds again (and we haven’t faced any since). The gulf coast of Florida has been the side of the state with a target on it in recent years. You could probably win a lot of bets with people from outside of our area by having them correctly identify southeast Florida as having only experienced the effects of a hurricane once in the past 17 years – while not having taken a direct landfall during that time.
In attempting to detect whether there’s been a pattern of early development previously, that might help explain what’s been happening recently, what I can do is analyze the trend of when the first named storm of every hurricane season has formed to see if there has historically been a cyclicality to the early formation of storms. I’ll start by breaking down the year for record tropical activity by month. And here’s a hint – get ready to be surprised.
Record number of named storm occurrences by month:
- January (tie 1): 1938, 1951, 1978, 2006
- February (1): 1952
- March (1): 1908
- April (1): 1992, 2003, 2017
- May (2): 1887, 2012, 2020
- June (3): 1886, 1909, 1936, 1968, 2021
- July (5): 2005, 2020
- August (8): 2004, 2012
- September (10): 2020
- October (8): 1950
- November (3): 1931, 1961, 2001, 2005, 2020
- December (2): 1887, 2003
How many people suspected that three of the monthly records for activity happened in the 1800’s? How many would have suspected that there are more months in the 1950’s with standalone record activity than any other decade? In fact, aside from the record setting year of 2020, the 2000’s don’t show up that prominently in record monthly activity. Also, by going through this exercise, we can see that there’s nothing that’s happened in May recently, that hasn’t occurred previously – as in the record tying 1887 hurricane season. Especially notable is that satellite technology wasn’t even used to monitor the tropics until 1966 – meaning it’s a certainty countless cyclones which would be identified and named today were missed. In the past ten years there’s literally only one month, September of 2020, in which activity was greater than what’s been monitored before. This analysis also highlights another pattern. Historical cycles.
You’ll notice the years 1886 and 1887 show up prominently accounting for three of the monthly records. We see the 1930’s check-in with three records as well. Ditto – 1950 – 1952. One wonders what those seasons and those cycles might have really looked like with the benefit of satellite technology. Here’s a look at the number of monthly records by decade:
- 1970’s & 1990’s: 1
- 1900’s & 1960’s: 2
- 1880’s, 1930’s, 1950’s: 3
- 2010’s: 4
- 2020’s: 5
- 2000’s: 6
What this illustrates is that there are clear patterns of greater and lesser activity, often in cycles of around twenty years with a few peak years within those cycles defining them. We also see that we have experienced generally greater activity in the last twenty years than has been monitored in any of the previous cycles. That’s not a case of recency bias – it is reality. Although there’s nothing that’s happened in May or June in recent years that didn’t also happen in the 1800’s. The greatest wildcard is what the peak cycles in the 1880’s, 1930’s and 1950’s would have looked like had we had satellite technology. It’s altogether possible those cycles rivaled or even surpassed the activity we’ve had recently but we don’t know what we couldn’t see that didn’t impact population zones.
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