Yes, this hurricane season has been worse than usual

The already-catastrophic 2017 hurricane season shows no signs of letting up: Hurricane Maria is roaring through some of the same Caribbean islandsravaged by Irma, just as Hurricane Jose stirs up trouble along the U.S. East Coast.

And we still have more than two months to go.

The ferocity of the Atlantic storm season isn't just in your imagination. Thanks primarily to monsters such as Harvey and Irma, it's one of the worst in years by various meteorological standards.

For example: The hurricanes that have formed this year — seven so far — are about double the average to date, as is the energy generated by the storms. This is a statistic known as "Accumulated Cyclone Energy," and the number in 2017 is the highest it's been since 2005, the year Hurricane Katrina hit, according to Colorado State University meteorologist Phil Klotzbach.

There have also been 30 days this year in which hurricanes have been spinning in the Atlantic — which is also more than double the average and the most since 2004, he said. 

Another stunning record set in 2017: For the first year in recorded hurricane history, which dates to 1851, two Category-4 hurricanes (Harvey and Irma) slammed into the United States the same year.

In fact, there have already been four major (Category 3 and above) hurricanes this season — the first time since 2010 we've had four by Sept. 18, according to Klotzbach. The average as of this date is less than two. 

As for the reasons for the active season, one of the factors is likely a lack of dust blowing across the Atlantic from Africa, which tends to have a drying effect on developing storms, according to AccuWeather. The lack of an El Niño — and its shearing winds that can tear apart nascent storms — is also playing a role.

 

Blast from the past?

Yet, as bad as it's been, some of this season's intensity is really just a blast from the past.

Irma, for instance, was "reminiscent of the great hurricanes that unleashed their fury on Florida in the first seven decades of the 20th century ... and then for the most part disappeared," said Weather Channel meteorologist Bryan Norcross before the storm hit. 

"Mother Nature’s hurricane-output cycle has its ups and downs," he added, "and a lull came along in the 1970s, 80s, and early 1990s — Hurricanes Frederic, Hugo and Andrew notwithstanding."

Meanwhile, especially in typically hurricane-prone states such as Florida, a race to build along the shore went unfettered.

Americans became older, richer and more conspicuous consumers, Norcross said. "The net result was exponential growth along the coastline — a construction frenzy, mostly without hurricanes in mind.

"Add in the expensive cars and gadgets of modern life, and the damage potential has skyrocketed."

Looking ahead

And even beyond whatever destruction Maria or Jose wreak, looking ahead to the rest of the season, concern remains.

A large area of high pressure centered near Bermuda is forecast to continue pumping warm, humid air northward from the Gulf of Mexico and the western Atlantic, AccuWeather said.

Tropical storms and hurricanes that brew will get caught up in the flow around this high-pressure area.

"When we get a pattern such as this, we usually have two to three named storms in October and can have one in November or December," AccuWeather hurricane expert Dan Kottlowski.

The Atlantic hurricane season officially lasts until Nov. 30, but hurricanes have been recorded as late as New Year's Eve, such as Hurricane Alice, in 1954. 

© 2017 USATODAY.COM


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