It has been nearly a decade since a storm has made landfall at major hurricane strength on U.S. soil. A “major hurricane” is considered one that ranks Category 3 or higher.
The official tally, 119 months, is the longest such “drought” ever recorded, stretching all the way back to 2005 when a trio of Category 3s—Katrina (Aug. 29), Rita (Sept. 23), and Wilma (Oct. 24)—made landfall along the Gulf Coast during one of the most active hurricane seasons ever recorded. NOAA’s hurricane records date all the way back to 1851.
Despite this remarkable streak, researchers believe it boils down to a case of atmospheric fortune. Dr. Gary Bell, NOAA’s lead seasonal hurricane forecaster, told csnews.com, where hurricanes strike and how strong they are depends on weather patterns.
“Beginning with 2006, we started getting a break,” Bell said. “Weather patterns in the eastern United States steered a lot more storms out to sea.”
The larger concern for Bell is a “hurricane amnesia” that can result in a lack of preparedness needed to survive these types of storms when they do reach land. Bell adds, the hurricane strength is “only one factor,” as storm surge and other natural events can compound a storm’s devastation.
2012’s Hurricane Sandy, a post-tropical cyclone when she made landfall, Sandy carried “only” category 1 winds, yet the storm inflicted over $68 billion in damage (second only to Katrina) in 24 states while claiming well over 150 lives in the U.S. alone. A huge factor in the destruction was the monstrous storm surge
“We tell coastal residents to prepare every hurricane season,” Bell said. “It only takes one storm to make it a bad year.”