With the forecasted Oct. 1 kickoff to the next hurricane season, our agency decided to use a historical perspective to help better inform our resources, infrastructure and what we’re spending on efforts to be prepared for the upcoming season.
Hurricane season begins June 1 and runs through November, with nine months of active precipitation and coastal hurricane activity. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the average U.S. death and property loss due to a hurricane is 70 per year, or about $81 billion dollars, from 1950 to 2014. This year’s (2016) total was $4.5 billion dollars.
While not a lot of direct data on deaths and damage can be found through a historical perspective, NOAA used data on statewide deaths and property loss from 1980 to 2015, the most recent information. Due to lack of information, NOAA used the disaster recoveries and living costs caused by economic disruption in states throughout the nation.
NOAA also used data on economic indicators provided by the US Census Bureau, such as the gross domestic product. NOAA conducted an analysis of these indicators in relation to a single hurricane season and concluded that the decrease in average annual direct and indirect losses during the pre-2017 hurricane season compared to the average pre-2017 season was large enough to allow direct and indirect losses to total upward of $25 billion for the same period.
According to NOAA, 2016’s total damage of $4.5 billion in losses and losses per year of between $100 million and $500 million added up to some major differences. The total costs and losses from the U.S. Hurricane Sandy disaster in 2012 ($62 billion) were seven and four times greater than the cost of the 2016 disaster season. A three-year downward trend was also documented.
The only area of main analysis is Florida, however. Noticeable differences between Florida and the national data can be seen here. Still, the combined records for the hurricane season from 1950 to 2015 show that with an average of 26 years, the likelihood of a state having at least one-quarter of its land area experience a hurricane during a hurricane season is less than 1 percent.
Every single hurricane season has people taking steps to prepare. However, the average age of a hurricane season that hits the U.S. is 60 years. In Florida, where we’re spending as much on hurricane preparation as ever, NOAA expects hurricane activity will increase to approximately eight to 10 hurricanes with sustained wind speeds of 74 mph or higher. The frequency and intensity of storms is expected to increase. A risk assessment indicates that the proportion of storms that produce tropical storm-force wind, wind gusts of at least 74 mph, is expected to increase from about 25 percent to 36 percent.
The two paths the Atlantic hurricane season can take are typical: from the edge of what is termed a neutral phase to a change in the phase labeled the “El Nino” phase. The neutral phase is the average pattern over the past nine years, described by NOAA as an inaccessibility of the Pacific to the Atlantic. NOAA defines this as “no Pacific presence” to sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean during the time frame. The “el Nino” phase, on the other hand, is the typical strength of the Pacific during the middle of the Atlantic hurricane season from August to October.
“Without human influence, natural variability in sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern Pacific waters during August to October may not be as large as it’s been in years,” said Leslie Glustrom, a climatologist and the lead of the analysis on the uncertainty of the long-term changes in eastern Pacific tropical cyclone weather patterns, in a NOAA release.
This uncertainty does not mean that NOAA projects that the current trend toward slower hurricane activity will continue into the 2020 hurricane season. The cyclone overall modeling by NOAA predicts average activity levels for this year.
“In the long-term record, the climate system has been unusually stable for the past 20 years,” Phil Klotzbach of Colorado State University, a hurricane researcher for NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center said in the release. “So it’s not surprising that we’re seeing more stability in hurricane activity.”