Number of Landfalls of Big U.S. Storms Could Break 1916 Record

By | September 18, 2020

Hurricane Sally’s historic flooding of Florida and Alabama this week marked the eighth named storm to strike the continental U.S. this year, leaving the tally just one short of a record that dates back more than a century.

With 10 weeks left in the Atlantic storm season, there’s a good chance that mark could fall.

The National Hurricane Center is currently monitoring a system in the southern Gulf of Mexico that has a 90% chance of becoming Tropical Storm Wilfred. It’s expected to head north and may reach the U.S. Gulf Coast, according to Phil Klotzbach, lead author of Colorado State University’s seasonal hurricane forecast.

“I think the odds of tying or breaking the record are quite high, especially given that we may get our ninth landfalling named storm in the next week,” Klotzbach said by email Thursday.

Based on historical data, there have been 73 years since 1900 when at least one storm made landfall in the U.S. later than Sept. 17, and 29 years with two or more. That works out to a 61% chance of matching the record and 24% chance of beating it, he estimated.

When storms that didn’t make landfall are included, it’s already been a record-breaking year, with 20 named systems so far. That’s the earliest in the year this has happened in data stretching back to 1851.

On Monday, there were five simultaneous systems swirling in the region for the first time since 1971. There have been so many that forecasters only have one name left to use this year — once the annual list is exhausted, they’ll start using Greek letters.

The last time eight storms made landfall in the U.S. was 2004, and before that in 1985. The record, nine storms, was in 1916, according to Klotzbach. Four of the storms that hit the mainland so far this year were hurricanes, two short of a record six in 1985 and 1886.

“Let’s hope we don’t break that record,” Klotzbach said.

Photograph: An aerial view from a drone shows people walking through a flooded street after Hurricane Sally passed through the area on Sept. 17, 2020 in Gulf Shores, Florida. The storm came ashore with heavy rain and high winds. Photo credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

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