HOUSTON - When you hear the phrase "October Surprise," normally politics comes to mind. The media often speaks of it in the weeks before an election regarding big, unforeseen news that could sway the election in a particular direction.
In regards to the weather, by the time we roll into October, most of the country has moved on from hurricane season. The cool, autumn air begins to roll down the Great Plains, leaves are changing, the holidays are approaching and the disasters of yesterday are long forgotten by those who didn't live through them.
That is until the "October surprise" comes.
Big, infamous hurricanes have struck the United States (and other countries) in October. In fact, it's not all that uncommon. Keep in mind the peak of the season was only three weeks prior to October 1st -- around September 10th or so. Hurricanes Mitch, Opal, Hazel, Wilma, Sandy and Jerry come to mind right away as far as memorable October hurricanes
Hurricane Mitch formed in late October 1998 and became a category 5 hurricane a few days later. Mitch would go on to make landfall in Honduras near peak intensity and cause devastating flash flooding and mudslides. Ultimately more than 11,000 people were killed according to THIS CNN with some media outlets reporting more than 20,000.
Sandy hit New Jersey with hurricane-like strength becoming the second costliest (now third behind Harvey) storm in US history. Sandy was dubbed "Franken-storm" due to its proximity to Halloween.
Many locals here in Houston remember Hurricane Jerry in 1989. Jerry started off innocently enough in the southern gulf and quickly powered up into a moderate category one hurricane. It made landfall at Houston/Galveston on October 16th with 85 mph winds. Jerry, to date, is one of the only hurricanes to ever hit Texas in recorded history and the only hurricane to hit Texas since 1950 in the month of October.
Humans are short-sighted and the lessons of history are easily forgotten and are forgotten quickly. Remember that prior to Hurricane Harvey, the United States had not been hit for nearly 12 years by a major storm. One could argue Ike should have been a major hurricane but that's a different blog discussion. Prior to 2016, Florida of all places hadn't been hit by any hurricane in over 10 years! An unthinkable streak of good --no-- great luck.
Hurricanes in October are a thing. It's a very old thing. The reason for that is because water has a very high heat capacity. It takes lots of energy to change the temperature of water by a single degree. Therefore temperatures sufficient enough to power hurricanes are frequently observed not just through October but November, too. That's why hurricane season runs through November 30th. In some years, it has gone clear into January (2005/2006)!.
While I can understand letting your guard down here in Texas this time of year, it is still possible to be whacked by a hurricane here in Houston. It's fine to be buried deep in hot wings and potato chips while watching the Texans in mid October but still keep KHOU turned on for a quick check of the tropics. You just never know when you'll have to utilize that hurricane kit or evacuation route just one more time.
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