|Mid-Atlantic Hurricanes: A Closer Examination
Welcome to Mid-Atlantic Hurricanes: A Closer Examination. This is a
periodic column based on the book Hurricanes and the Middle Atlantic
States. It examines tropical cyclones from a historical perspective.
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|Will 2014 be "The Year of the Hurricane" on the East Coast?
|Hurricane Anniversaries in 2014
10th 2004 became the year of the hurricane related flood and related tornado along much of
the Eastern Seaboard. Florida became "Hurricane Central." Charlie, Frances, Ivan, Jeanne and
Gaston moved north-northeast like on a conveyor belt. Ivan (Sept. 17-18 in Mid-Atlantic) brought
the most widespread tornado outbreak and most severe flooding. Hurricane Gaston on August
30 brought the Richmond, Virginia, metropolitan area one of its worst flash flood events.
15th Flooding and Hurricane Floyd became synonymous on Sept. 16, 1999. Many sections
within 75 miles west of its track through eastern North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware
and New Jersey received more than 10 inches or rain, with isolated totals near 20 inches.
Waterways rose to historic levels. Floyd caused immense environmental damage to many
streams and rivers along its path. A Category 2 hurricane at landfall in North Carolina, it
maintained at least minimal hurricane strength and an intact eye as far north as Ocean City,
25th Hurricane Hugo smashed ashore near Charleston, South Carolina, on Sept.
21-22,1989. Its maximum 135 mph sustained winds and immense storm surge devastated the
South Carolina coast. The rapidly moving storm carved a destructive wind blown track well
inland, tracking through South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and
Pennsylvania. Hurricane force gusts were reported as far north as western Pennsylvania. Hugo
is the last Category 4 level hurricane to make landfall along the U.S. coast north of Florida.
35th Rarely do dying hurricanes produce as many tornadoes as Hurricane David. It made
landfall in Florida and then again near Savannah,Georgia, before charging along an interior
track up the East Coast. Epic flash flooding occurred from the northern suburbs of Washington,
D.C. through the Baltimore metropolitan area on Sept. 5-6, 1979. The storm spawned dozens of
tornadoes, including particularly destructive ones in southeastern Virginia and in Fairfax County,
Virginia, near Washington, D.C.
45th Hurricane Camille slammed through the Mississippi Gulf Coast on Aug. 17, 1969, as a
Category 5 hurricane. It reached Virginia as a downgraded tropical depression on Aug. 19-20.
Camille unexpectedly began to intensify as the storm moved east through Virginia enroute to the
Atlantic Ocean. More than 27 inches of rain fell in Nelson County, near Charlottesville, from
about 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. on Aug. 19-20. Mudslides and flash flooding killed 151 people in the
state, the Old Dominion's deadliest natural disaster.
60th On Oct. 15, 1954, Hurricane Hazel, of Category 4 intensity at landfall, devastated the
Carolinas, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York while racing into Canada. Hours of
hurricane force gusts blasted sections east of its track along the entire route. Peak gusts at
official weather stations included 108 mph in Suffolk, Va., and 112 mph at Patuxent Naval Air
Station in Maryland. (The 60 years since Hurricane Hazel mark the longest interval between suc
'inland hurricanes' affecting Virginia and Maryland in at least the past 400 years.)
75th On Aug. 19-20, 1939, the remnants of a tropical storm dumped 14.81 inches of rain on
Tuckerton, N.J. That remains the state's greatest 24 hour rainfall total at an official weather
Hurricane Ivan during September 2004 brought a tornado outbreak to the
Mid-Atlantic region. A house in Remington, Virginia., and outbuildings from a
farm north of Brunswick, Maryland, were among many destroyed buildings.
(Photographs by Rick Schwartz)
Predicting the activity level for a hurricane season months ahead can be humbling.
The science has a long way to go. 2013 was a prime example.
In May, the National Weather Service predicted 13 to 20 named Atlantic storms, with
seven to 11 full blown hurricanes and three to six major (Category 3 or stronger)
events. As late as August, an active season was expected. However, only two minimal
hurricanes formed, the fewest since 1982.
Water temperatures, atmospheric conditions and hurricane history seemed to favor a
memorable year. Persistently dry and stable air, as well as modest wind shear during
August, September and October, the peak of the tropical cyclone season, continually
suppressed activity. Forecasting models did not adequately take that into account.
So what about 2014?
History favors a memorable year for the East Coast if a series of active seasons is
underway. Active series typically last four to six years, with an embedded quiet year in a
shorter series and, perhaps, another quiet (but non-consecutive) year if a longer
series. A quiet 2013 after East Coast hurricane landfalls in 2011 and 2012 wasn't
surprising. Unfortunately, it may lull many people into complacency. Every East Coast
active series dating back at least 150 years has featured multiple Category 2 and
stronger hurricane landfalls. The 2011 and 2012 landfalling storms were of Category 1
The forecasting science cannot predict if a series is underway and if 2014 hurricane
activity will be frequent and intense. There is no way to know what storm steering
currents will be like come the peak months or whether the atmosphere will be conducive
to intense hurricanes. The busted predictions of 2013 tropical cyclone intensities (but
correct on the number of named storms) indicate that meteorologists have solved part
of the puzzle but are still grappling with key pieces.
The lack of big storm events on the East Coast remains remarkable. The last
Category 2 hurricane landfall occurred in 2004. There have been more than 150
named North Atlantic tropical cyclones since then. In fact, there have only been three
Category 1 (winds 74-95 mph) since 2004, with Katrina in 2005, Irene in 2011 and
Sandy in 2012. The past two occurred in New Jersey, leaving the rest of the East
Coast, north of Florida, without any hurricane landings in a decade.
If an East Coast series is not underway, several more quiet years may occur. But if
there is a series, expect something stronger than a Category 1 storm and in a place
other than New Jersey.
The best residents can do to anticipate future events is to know about past events.
Over the long term, hurricane history is repetitive. What storms have done in the past
they will do again. A knowledge of what has happened will reduce skepticism, minimize
complacency and encourage a profound respect for Mother Nature.
To everyone: Have a prosperous and safe new year!