The 2012 Atlantic Hurricane Season in 4 minutes and 28 seconds. Video: NOAA Visualization Lab
Today marks the end of the 2012 Atlantic Hurricane Season, one of the busiest and costliest storm seasons in U.S. history. This season tied 2010 and 2011 for third place all time with 19 named storms, making the three-year span a rare, extended period of high activity.
In 2012, there were 19 named storms, 10 of which became hurricanes and one of which became a major hurricane. NOAA classified the year as "above normal" based on the number, intensity, and duration of all tropical storms and hurricanes, saying that 10 seasons exceeded 2012 in the last three decades in terms of the combined effect of the three previously mentioned factors. The only major hurricane of the year was Michael, a Category III storm that died out over the Atlantic Ocean, but the storm that people will talk about when they mention 2012 is, of course, Sandy.
“This year proved that it’s wrong to think that only major hurricanes can ruin lives and impact local economies,” said Laura Furgione, acting director of NOAA’s National Weather Service. “We are hopeful that after the 2012 hurricane season, more families and businesses all along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts become more ‘weather ready’ by understanding the risks associated with living near the coastline.”
2012 storms. Photo: National Hurricane Center
Sandy graded as high as a Category II storm in the Caribbean. She jabbed Jamaica and sent high winds and heavy downpour into Haiti before delivering a knockout punch to New Jersey and New York—and then barreling inland and sending high winds, rain, and snow rippling out over the Eastern U.S.
Analysis of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season shows that it extends two major trends. The first trend is another year with a higher than average number of storms. There has been an increased cluster of storm activity that began in 1995—since then, 70 percent of seasons have had an above normal count. An average season has 12 named storms. The 19 named storms of 2012 make it one of the top five seasons since records have been kept in 1851. The previous two years, 2010 and 2011, also had 19 named storms. In other words, three of the top five seasons for sheer number of storms have occurred in the last three years. The only two seasons with more than 19 reported storms occurred in 2005 (28) and 1933 (20), according to Jeff Masters of Weather Underground. Masters said that database is biased—some early storms may have been missed because of primitive technologies—but that the three most recent seasons would still make a list of the top 10 busiest Atlantic storm seasons after factoring in undercounting before 2002.
The second trend shows a dry spell in major hurricanes hitting the coast. While Sandy proved that a hurricane doesn’t have to be major—Category III, IV, or V—to do loads of damage, this year there was no major hurricane that made landfall. As Brian McNoldy of the Capital Weather Gang said, it has been 2,592 days since the last major hurricane, Hurricane Wilma in October 24, 2005, hit the U.S. coast. That’s the longest stretch that a major hurricane hasn’t made landfall since 1900—eclipsing the previous record by almost a year and counting. This year, a persistent jet stream over the eastern part of the country helped steer many storms away from the coast, but such a drought can’t last forever.
Here are some other interesting stats from the 2012 Atlantic Hurricane season, by the numbers:
320, $70,000,000,000: Estimated fatalities and cost of eight of the most memorable storms of 2012 so far, respectively. “Third Most Active Hurricane Season on Record (Tie) Ends Friday,” Brian McNoldy
253, $63,000,000,000: Estimated fatalities and cost of Sandy so far, making it the second costliest hurricane in U.S. history behind Katrina’s $128 billion mess, respectively. “Third Most Active Hurricane Season on Record (Tie) Ends Friday,” Brian McNoldy
1 IN 5,800 YEARS: Chance of having three consecutive seasons with 19 named storms after factoring in possible missed storms prior to 2002. “Nineteen Atlantic Tropical Storms Three Consecutive Years: A Rare Event,” Dr. Jeff Masters
1 IN 157 YEARS: Chance of having three consecutive seasons with 12 named storms that last for more than two days each—another feat achieved by the 2010, 2011, and 2012 storm seasons. “That's a pretty rare event, and it is possible that climate change, combined with the fact we are in an active hurricane period that began in 1995, contributed to this rare event,” wrote Dr. Jeff Masters in “Nineteen Atlantic Tropical Storms Three Consecutive Years: A Rare Event.”
2: Hurricanes that formed in the tropics. Eight other hurricanes formed above 22 degrees north latitude. “Third Most Active Hurricane Season on Record (Tie) Ends Friday,” Brian McNoldy
7: Consecutive years that no major hurricane—Category III, IV, or V—has hit the United States coast. “Busy 2012 Hurricane Season Continues Decades Long High Activity Era in the Atlantic,” NOAA
25-40: Period of time high-activity Atlantic storm eras have lasted in the past. The current trend for higher than normal storm counts began in 1995. “Busy 2012 Hurricane Season Continues Decades Long High Activity Era in the Atlantic,” NOAA