Unlike in still-recovering Florida, this year’s Atlantic hurricane season largely spared the New York area, barely qualifying as "average" despite predictions that there could have been more storms.
“If you look at the statistics, there is only about a 25% chance the Northeast is going to see a named storm in a year, so you guys were due for an off year,” said Jeff Masters, a Yale Climate Connections meteorologist and co-founder of Weather Underground.
All storms that reached the New York metro area this season had weakened below tropical strength.
Only 14 Atlantic storms qualified for names — 14 to 21 were forecast — and eight turned into hurricanes. Six to 10 hurricanes were anticipated when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued its first projections in May.
WHAT TO KNOW
- This year’s Atlantic hurricane season largely spared the region and barely qualified as "average."
- Only 14 Atlantic storms qualified for names — 14 to 21 were forecast — and eight turned into hurricanes during the season, which began June 1 and ends Wednesday.
- Zero storms arose in August, an oddity still being probed, according to Matthew Rosencrans, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.
The results put the June 1-to-Nov. 30 Atlantic season firmly in the “average" category, according to NOAA.
Several aspects about the season ending Wednesday are highly unusual: the slow start in June and July, the August lull, and the three hurricanes that arose in November, which is usually much quieter when the La Nina weather pattern prevails, as it has for three consecutive years. La Nina raises the coldest ocean layers to the surface off South America's west coast, altering the winds.
An abundance of Saharan dust, blown across the ocean, also helped quiet the season's first two months, meteorologists said.
“The warmth, dryness and strong winds associated with the Saharan Air Layer have been shown to suppress tropical cyclone formation and intensification,” according to NOAA.
That layer, starting about a mile above the surface, can be as thick as 2 1/2 miles.
Zero storms arose in August, an oddity still being probed, according to Matthew Rosencrans, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.
NOAA, in a statement, said: “This unique season was defined by a rare midseason pause in storms that scientists preliminarily believe was caused by increased wind shear and suppressed atmospheric moisture high over the Atlantic Ocean.”
Wind shear — changes in direction and speed — if powerful enough can blast hurricanes apart. And the fuel for these storms is heat and water.
“And what caused the wind shear? That’s where the modeling and attribution studies will come into play,” Rosencrans said.
Another boon for the tristate area were the “steering currents,” including the jet stream and the Bermuda high, which never aligned to push storms this way, said David A. Robinson, distinguished professor at Rutgers University and New Jersey State Climatologist.
“These storms can’t steer themselves, really,” Robinson said. “They are at the mercy of the winds in the tropics.”
The clockwise-spinning Bermuda high-pressure system usually perches over that island in summer, then heads more than 2,000 miles east toward the Azores in winter.
Four hurricanes formed in September, historically the most common month for northeast U.S. landfalls, said Ryan Truchelut, chief meteorologist with private forecasters WeatherTiger LLC.
However, this September, “The Bermuda high was relatively weak and farther east than average, which led to Hurricanes Earl and Fiona turning north and out to sea well east of the continental U.S.,” he said.
And Ian, which devastated parts of Florida's Gulf Coast in September, "was captured by a strong eastern U.S. trough and moved inland well south of the Northeastern U.S., and as usual, October and November hurricane activity was focused on the Caribbean.”
The jet stream becomes more of an important factor as winter approaches, and if it turns south can become a bit of a hurricane highway.
That almost happened with Nicole, whose remnants sailed into the metropolitan region after it thrashed Florida in early November. “Nicole was going to jump on the right side of that dip in the jet stream,” Robinson said.
But the timing was off. “If it had come a little later, it would have steered it right over us, but it came up a day earlier.”
For the 2023 season, much depends on whether La Nina persists — or switches to neutral — or transforms into its opposite, El Nino, which tends to decrease Atlantic storms.
Said Rosencrans: “Sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic are still expected to be above normal, so we would probably be on the higher side of above normal, if you had nothing else to go on.”