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.

Rick Schwartz, author of Hurricanes and the Middle Atlantic States
ricschwartz@yahoo.com
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What's in a Number?
Early Estimates of Hurricane Activity Mean Little to 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, Maryland.

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 station.
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.

    This spring various forecasts will be put forth for the upcoming season.
However,there seems little correlation to the number of tropical cyclones that form in
the North Atlantic basin and the likelihood of a strong Category 2 (95+ mph wind) or
more intense hurricane making landfall along the East Coast. Consider the following
statistics:

    During the past 100 seasons, there have been 50 years with less than 10 tropical
cyclones (below average number of storms), 34 years with 10 to 13, (average) and 16
years (above average) with more than 13 tropical cyclones. A total of eight seasons
with a below average number of tropical cyclones featured at least one Category 2 or
stronger East Coast landfall. A total of 11 Category 2 or more intense storms made an
Eastern Seaboard landfall during an average year. There were only 3 years of
Category 2 or stronger hurricanes that made an East Coast plunge during the 16 active
seasons.

    On a percentage basis,  the greatest likelihood of a strong hurricane making landfall
somewhere between Florida and Maine is during an average year. That happened
nearly one-third of the time. The percentage is lowest in a below average year of
Atlantic tropical cyclone production, only eight seasons during 50 years. However,
those featured the most infamous, destructive, hurricanes to visit the East Coast during
the past century.

    These years have included the Lake Okeechobee, Florida, hurricane of 1928, as
well as the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935. Both storms rank among the deadliest to visit
the United States during the past century. Also, appearing are the Great New England
Hurricane of 1938, the great Miami hurricane of 1947, vicious Hurricane Donna in 1960
and costly Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Category 2 storms in 1929 and 1940 complete
the list.

    A forecast for an average to below average number of tropical systems is far riskier
to the East Coast than a forecast for a higher than average number of storms. It's as if
Mother Nature puts more effort into fewer Big Ones, at least those destined for the
Eastern U.S. hurricane belt.

    More important than a long range general prediction is whether the western Atlantic
will support intense hurricanes and what the steering currents will be like come August,
September and October. At this time the predictive science is of little use.