An anything but "usual" hurricane season comes to an end - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

An anything but "usual" hurricane season comes to an end

Hurricane Matthew as it passes over Haiti Hurricane Matthew as it passes over Haiti

November 30 marks the end of the Atlantic Hurricane Season that began June 1.  

To say we had an "unusual" season is perhaps appropriate since our usual is "watch and it passes".  But there was nothing accustomed in the 2016 season, first point being our first hurricane, Alex, formed outside of the season.  It was a rare January hurricane with 85mph sustained winds.

Even Tropical Storm Bonnie formed before the official season on May 27th and left its mark in the Lowcountry, completely flooding I-95 and homes, even the jail in Ridgeland, washing away roads in Bulloch County and reminding us that tropical storm with its rains can be just as damaging, even deadly, as a hurricane.

This was the first above-normal season since 2012. The Atlantic saw 15 named storms during 2016, including seven hurricanes (Alex, Earl, Gaston, Hermine, Matthew, Nicole, and Otto), three of which were major hurricanes (Gaston, Matthew and Nicole). NOAA's updated hurricane season outlook in August called for 12 to 17 named storms, including 5 to 8 hurricanes, with 2 to 4 of those predicted to become major hurricanes.

Five named storms made landfall in the United States during 2016, the most since 2008 when six storms struck. Tropical Storm Bonnie and Hurricane Matthew made official landfall in South Carolina, both just miles from Charleston. Tropical Storms Colin and Julia, as well as Hurricane Hermine, made landfall in Florida and made their way towards us. Hermine was the first hurricane to make landfall in Florida since Wilma in 2005, and notably remained its tropical storm strength through the panhandle and as it passed over us. 

The strongest and longest-lived storm was Matthew, maximum sustained surface winds of 160 miles per hour, and lasted as a major hurricane for eight days from Sept. 30 to Oct. 7. Matthew was the first Category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic basin since Felix in 2007. Official landfall happened Saturday, Oct. 8 as a Category 1 hurricane McClellanville, South Carolina.

Matthew caused storm surge and beach erosion from Florida through North Carolina, our highest recorded rainfall total was more than 17 inches of rain at Hunter Army Airfield and a 96 mph hour wind gust on Tybee Island.  The storm was responsible for the greatest U.S. loss of life due to inland flooding from a tropical system since torrential rains from Hurricane Floyd caused widespread and historic flooding in eastern North Carolina in 1999.

“The strength of Hurricane Matthew, as well as the increased number of U.S. landfalling storms this season, were linked to large areas of exceptionally weak vertical wind shear that resulted from a persistent ridge of high pressure in the middle and upper atmosphere over Caribbean Sea and the western Atlantic Ocean,” said Gerry Bell, Ph.D., lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. “These conditions, along with very warm Caribbean waters, helped fuel Matthew’s rapid strengthening.”

Several Atlantic storms  made landfall outside of the United States during 2016: Tropical Storm Danielle in Mexico, Hurricane Earl in Belize, Hurricane Matthew in Haiti, Cuba, and the Bahamas and Hurricane Otto in Nicaragua.

As the Atlantic, eastern Pacific and central Pacific 2016 hurricane seasons end today, ours wasn't the only "unusual" seasons.

The eastern Pacific and central Pacific felt above average seasons. The eastern Pacific Ocean east of 140 degrees West, produced 20 named storms during 2016, including 10 hurricanes of which 4 became major hurricanes. 

The central Pacific hurricane basin covers the Pacific Ocean west of 140 degrees West to the International Date Line. This basin saw seven tropical cyclones (includes tropical depressions and named storms) during 2016. All seven became named storms, and included three hurricanes of which two were major hurricanes. Tropical Storm Darby made landfall on the Big Island of Hawaii, marking the first time in recorded history that two storms in three years struck the Big Island (Darby in 2016 and Iselle in 2014). NOAA's central Pacific hurricane season outlook called for four to seven tropical cyclones. 

I started this article with the words usual and accustomed. Those are very passive words, and hopefully after this season, all of us don't act passively when the WTOC First Alert Weather team start tracking a storm coming our way, whatever the size and strength.  Be prepared for the worst, and hope for the best.

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