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Wot, No Hurricanes by September?

by on Thursday 5th September, 2013   24965 Visits   Comments

Historically the season peaks around the start of September. © 2014 NOAA

Is hurricane season proving to be a damp squib? NOAA predicted a 70 percent likelihood that 2013 would exceed the seasonal average. Yet, near the historic peak of hurricane activity in early September we have reached the the seventh named storm of the season (Tropical Storm Gabrielle) and there have been no hurricanes.

The NOAA seasonal definitions of normal:

Below Normal: 4 – 9 Named Storms / 2 – 4 Hurricanes
Near Normal: 10 – 15 Named Storms / 4 – 9 Hurricanes
Above Normal: 12 – 28 Named Storms / 7 – 15 Hurricanes

A perfect hurricane will produce overhead waves from the Caribbean through Florida and all the way to Nova Scotia before spinning-off and peppering Europe. Wobbling into Florida at 40mph isn’t the same thing.

A storm acquires a name when it reaches tropical storm status (39–73 mph) and 2013’s seven named storms to date is indeed, marginally, above normal. Except that in 2013 we haven’t seen any meaningful surf. By September we might expect to have two hurricanes (74–95 mph) with one strengthening into a major system (111–129mph), but not one tropical storm in the Atlantic or Caribbean has transitioned into a hurricane, and they’ve all failed to stick to a track for the production of extensive wave fields.

“Hurricane forecasting is probabilistic.” Says MSW forecaster, Ben Freeston “We’re comparing the most likely outcomes of specific climatic conditions with historic average numbers of named storms. Just counting storms has its drawbacks and the NOAA certainly aren’t interested in the specific paths needed for producing good surf.”

A perfect hurricane will produce overhead waves from the Caribbean through Florida and all the way to Nova Scotia before spinning-off and peppering Europe. Wobbling into Florida at 40mph isn’t the same thing, which is about as much as this year has achieved for us surfers. The good news is that this could change at any time and a classic hurricane or two will entirely alter perception of a season’s success. Everyone has those storms which stick in the memory, names etched in your brain from year’s past.

August's storms are more likely to run close to the coast. September storms are most likely to follow the perfect arching track away from landfall.

How does this year compare to the recent past? So far in 2013 we’ve seen seven named storms and no hurricanes. September is typically the peak month of the season with activity increasing rapidly in late August. But in 2013 we’ve really only had Dorian and Andrea, both of which were average surf producers.

2012, in comparison saw the bulk of storms before September with 12 named storms pre-September and seven in the following months. 10 of which were hurricanes, two of which were major (Category 3 or larger). Notably we had Leslie at the end of August and of course Sandy almost at the end of October.

2011, saw 11 named storms pre September and again seven after this date. Seven of these were hurricanes and four attained major classification. Notably Irene and Katia end of August (for Quik Pro) before Maria and Ophelia in September.

2010, had a slower build-up with six named systems pre-September and 13 afterwards. Making the point about numbers verses surf potential, Danielle and Earl arrived at the end of August, despite the low storm count to date. Igor then arrived in September.

Our conclusion? The relatively slow start to this season doesn’t invalidate the NHC guidance. Seven named storms to date is equal to 2010 and who knows what the second half of the season will bring? However, as surfers, we remember the providers and when comparing 2013 against the recent past we’d want to see activity heating-up right about now. The latest NHC guidance and long range charts suggest this to be the case with a live storm in the water (albeit another average tropical storm) and favourable conditions for storm formation over coming days. Remember we can still see a storm like the hugely destructive Sandy (late October, 2012) right up until the end of November when the hurricane season finishes.

Cumulative average storm numbers show that five named storms and two hurricanes would be typical by the beginning of September © 2014 NOAA

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