It has been 10 years since a major hurricane hit the U.S., and as the Atlantic season staggers into its last month, every day that passes seems certain to extend that record streak.
Wilma was the last major system, striking Florida on Oct. 24, 2005. Since then, every Category 3, 4, or 5 hurricane to form in the Atlantic basin has missed the U.S. While some weather data go back only a few decades, this ocean’s hurricane records date to 1851, when the U.S. flag had 31 stars and Millard Fillmore was president.
While the prospect of a Wilma coming along this year are slim, there’s still just over a month to go before the season ends Nov. 30 — plenty of time for something to develop.
“This is the time of year you don’t want to let your guard down,” said Dan Kottlowski, a meteorologist with AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania.
Superstorm Sandy made its westward hook into New Jersey on Oct. 29, 2012, flooding parts of that state as well as neighboring New York. While Sandy wasn’t technically a hurricane when it struck, its winds were blowing at about 80.5 miles (130 kilometers) per hour, Category 1 level. For the sake of comparison, a major hurricane has top winds of at least 111 mph, and last week’s Patricia, in the Pacific off Mexico, peaked with Category 5 winds of 200 mph.
According to the National Hurricane Center, the Atlantic usually produces a sixth hurricane by Nov. 23. So far this year, only three hurricanes have grown from 10 named storms.
Statistics show that November storms typically originate in the southern Caribbean Sea and then veer northeastward into the Atlantic. Good news for the U.S., not for Cuba, Jamaica and the Bahamas.
Another piece of good news for the U.S.: As weather patterns across the country begin to transition toward winter, there’s less chance a storm will hit in the western Gulf of Mexico.
“By the time we get to the 17th of October we never see tropical development out there,” Kottlowski said. “The odds get even smaller once you get to November.”
The Gulf accounts for 4.4 percent of U.S. marketed natural gas production, a positive for anyone wishing for futures under $2 per million British thermal units. A big storm in the Gulf can send prices climbing.
Gulf development is prevented in part by an increase in shear, which is when winds blow at different speeds or directions at various altitudes. That can tear a storm apart.
Shear was a major reason a system off Texas didn’t develop into a tropical storm last weekend, despite a boost from the remnants of Patricia, Kottlowski said.
The most likely spark for an Atlantic storm at this time of year is for something “bubbling up over the Caribbean, the southeast coast of the U.S. or the southern Gulf of Mexico,” he said. “Those are the three favorite areas.”
For now, the best chance for a U.S. hit would be for a storm to grow in the Pacific and strike Hawaii.
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