2017 Florida Weather Highlights
After several quiet years, weather forecasters think we might be entering a more active hurricane season after a few quiet years.
Prior to 2016, Florida had gone a record ten years without a hurricane making landfall that is until Hurricane Hermine hit Apalachee Bay in the Panhandle.
Though the official hurricane season runs from June to November, it is not uncommon for storms to form before the start of the season, in April/May, or well beyond the end of the season right through to the following January.
In 2012 both Alberto and Beryl formed in May and in 2015 Ana also formed in May. In 2016 Alex formed in January and Bonnie in May. This year, Arlene formed in April.
August and September are traditionally the most active months.
With the formation of Ophelia, there have now been 10 hurricanes in a row, the first time this has happened since 1893, over 100 years ago. 2017 is proving to be the third most active hurricane season on record, after 1933 and 2005.
Hurricane predictions for 2017
The team led by Philip J. Klotzbach from the Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University made their first predictions for the 2017 hurricane season in April. They forecast a below average season with up to 11 named storms, four of them hurricanes of which two could become a major hurricane (Category 3 or greater with sustained winds of 111 mph or more).
This was due to the reduced likelihood of a significant Pacific weather system known as El Niño, coupled with cooler Atlantic water temperatures.
Colorado issued a revised forecast at the beginning of June and increased their forecast numbers to 13 named storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes. They further increased the number of hurricanes to eight in July.
They predicted that there is a 55% chance that at least one major hurricane will make landfall on the entire United States coastline during 2017 (average is 52%) with a 33% chance (average is 31%) for the eastern Florida peninsula and a 32% chance (average is 30%) for the Gulf Coast.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) usually put out their first predictions at the end of May each year with a revised forecast in August. This year in May they predicted an above average season with a 70% chance of an estimated 11 to 17 named storms, five to nine hurricanes of which between two and four could be major hurricanes. This again puts their worst case scenario ahead of Colorado State University.
NOAA made their revised forecast in early August and they have increased their figures slightly to predict a 70% chance of there being 14 to 19 named storms, five to nine hurricanes of which two to five could be major hurricanes.
This could make 2017 the most active season since 2010.
AccuWeather.com normally produce their forecast around the middle of May and this year is predicting only 10 named storms with five hurricanes of which three could become major hurricanes. They also predict three named storms could make landfall in the USA.
Tropical Storm Risk is predicting higher numbers with 14 named storms and six hurricanes of which three could become major.
Earth Networks who power WeatherBug are predicting nine to 13 named storms including three to six hurricanes of which two or three could be major.
Both the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University team have over estimated named storms and hurricanes in recent years but remember these are just predictions.
It only takes one storm to do untold damage, just remember Andrew in 1992 or Katrina and Sandy more recently.
In 1992 there were only seven named storms making it a “quiet” year but the first storm of the season, the category 5 Hurricane Andrew, hit Homestead near Miami before crossing over into the Gulf and onto Louisiana. Damage was estimated at $26 billion with around 65 people killed in total.
Storm names for 2017
Each year a set of names alternating between boys and girls is chosen for all named storms. Names are often re-used but the names of particularly damaging hurricanes such as Katrina and Sandy are withdrawn and never used again.
The names for tropical storms and hurricanes in 2017 are as follows:
Arlene formed well before the official start of the hurricane season on Wednesday, April 19, southwest of the Azores and became a tropical storm on the following day. By April 21 it had reached wind speeds of 50 mph but it quickly dissipated.
Tropical Storm Bret formed in the Atlantic southeast of the island of Trinidad on Monday, June 19. It started moving quickly west northwest tracking north of Venezuela towards Nicaragua but quickly deteriorated.
Tropical Storm Cindy formed in the Gulf of Mexico just a day after Tropical Storm Bret. It started tracking northwest towards the coast of Texas and Louisiana with wind speeds of 45 mph. It strengthened to about 60 mph. On Thursday, June 22 it came ashore in southwest Louisiana as a Tropical Depression and was responsible for at least one death in Alabama.
Tropical Storm Don formed east of the Windward Islands and started tracking westwards at 20 mph with wind speeds of 40 mph. It continued tracking westwards, north of the Venezuelan coastline before breaking up.
It was not a threat to the USA.
Tropical Storm Emily formed in the Gulf of Mexico on Monday, July 31 around 65 miles WNW of Sarasota. It quickly made landfall near Bradenton with wind speeds of 40 mph as it tracked eastwards across Central Florida at 9 mph bringing heavy rain (up to 8 inches) to the Tampa Bay area.
It weakened slightly over land before strengthening again as it passed into Atlantic waters with wind speeds of 60 mph.
The governor of Florida declared a state of emergency in 31 counties.
Like Emily, Tropical Storm Franklin also formed in the Gulf of Mexico. It appeared off the Honduras coastline late on Sunday, August 6 and tracked west-northwest towards the Yucatan Peninsula at 13 mph with wind speeds of 40 mph.
After crossing the Yucatan Peninsula it strengthened as it headed out into the Bay of Campeche with wind speeds of 60 mph. It was expected to reach hurricane status (the first of the season) by the time it made land for a second time near Lechuguillas, Veracruz early Thursday morning. In fact it reached wind speeds of 75 mph as a category 1 hurricane.
Once over land for a second time, it started to dissipate rapidly but then regenerated into Tropical Storm Jova as crossed into the Eastern Pacific.
Tropical Storm Gert formed east of the Bahamas and 525 miles southwest of Bermuda on Sunday, August 13 and started moving north northwest at 13 mph with wind speeds of 35 mph. By Monday, August 14 wind speeds had increased to 60 mph as it tracked northwards between Bermuda and the Atlantic coastline.
It was not expected to make landfall in the USA but was forecast to reach hurricane status as it continued to veer onto a north easterly course. Later that day it became a hurricane with wind speeds of 90 mph.
By Wednesday, August 16 it became a category 2 hurricane with wind speeds of 120 mph, peaking at 125 mph before weakening.
Tropical Storm Harvey formed around 365 miles east of Barbados with wind speeds of 50 mph and started tracking westwards at 18 mph. It passed close to Barbados and by Friday it was close to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
It was forecast to strengthen and skirt the northern shores of Honduras on Monday, August 21 before crossing the Yucatan Peninsula. By Wednesday, August 23 it had weakened to a Tropical Depression but it then abruptly changed course onto a northerly heading and by Thursday, August 24 it had strengthened again back to a Tropical Storm with wind speeds of 60 mph.
It was forecast to reach category 1 hurricane status before making landfall again on the Texas coastline near Corpus Christi. In the end it hit the coastline north east of Corpus Christi as a major category 4 hurricane (the first of the season) with wind speeds of up to 160 mph. Though Harvey weakened back to a tropical storm, it brought catastrophic flooding around the Houston area with rainfall of more than 50 inches in some places.
By Monday, August 28 it had backtracked over the Gulf of Mexico again before coming ashore for a third time near Cameron in Western Louisiana.
At least 60 people have died in Texas mostly as a result of drowning as Harvey becomes the biggest storm to hit the US mainland in 13 years. It is estimated it could cost over $160 billion in damages, about as much as Katrina and Sandy combined.
On Wednesday, August 30, Tropical Storm Irma formed west of the Cape Verde Islands. It started tracking westwards at 13 mph with wind speeds of up to 50 mph but quickly became a category 4 major hurricane, the fourth consecutive hurricane of the season and the second consecutive major hurricane.
It weakened slightly but by Sunday, September 3, the northern Leeward Islands were under hurricane watch and on Tuesday it strengthened to a category 5 hurricane with wind speeds of up to 185 mph making it the strongest storm ever recorded in the Atlantic.
It passed close to Antigua and Barbuda as it headed towards Anguilla, the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
It was looking more and more likely that it would strike the Florida Keys and mandatory evacuations of the Keys were ordered and this was followed by further evacuations from all coastal areas. The whole of Florida is under a State of Emergency and over 6.5 million Floridians have been told to evacuate.
Hurricane watches are in effect for the whole of south Florida from Naples to West Palm Beach and this was extended into Central Florida on Friday.
By Friday, Hurricane Irma had weakened slightly with wind speeds of 150 mph as it passed between the Bahamas and Cuba. It started to turn onto a more northerly track and hit the Lower Keys near Cudjoe Key as a category 4 hurricane on Sunday morning with wind speeds of 135 mph.
It started tracking northwest at 8 mph and was expected to make landfall again Sunday evening in the Tampa Bay area but it actually made landfall again at Marco Island, south of Naples. It then stayed on a more northerly track passing over the Orlando area as a category 1 hurricane before continuing up into Georgia.
Some 6.5 million Florida homes were left without power and there were many casualties. Over 70 people died as a result of Irma in Florid with over 100 deaths in the Caribbean.
Tropical Storm Jose formed on Tuesday, September 5 about 1,500 miles east of the Lesser Antilles and started tracking west-northwest with wind speeds of 40 mph. It was expected to strengthen to hurricane status in the next couple of days but will most likely veer northwards without making landfall.
On Wednesday, September 6, it strengthened to category 1 hurricane status with wind speeds of 75 mph and was still tracking west-northwest. By the following day it was upgraded to a major hurricane, as a category 3 status hurricane with 120 mph winds.
By Friday is was a category 4 major hurricane with 150 mph winds, the same as Irma. It is following closely in Irma’s path but is expected to veer northwards before reaching Florida.
By Sunday it was north of Puerto Rico, still as a category 4 hurricane tracking northwest. It was expected that it could double back onto a westerly course. In the end id did a complete 360 degree turn and by Saturday, September 16, it was a category 1 hurricane with wind speeds of 80 mph tracking northwards.
Though not expected to make landfall, it is likely to bring strong rip currents up the eastern seaboard.
Tropical Storm Katia became the third active storm at the same time when it formed early Wednesday, September 6 in the Bay of Campeche in the Gulf of Mexico with wind speeds of 40 mph and quickly strengthened to hurricane category 1 status making it the sixth consecutive hurricane of the season..
It started tracking east-southeast but turned onto a west-southwesterly heading as it strengthened.
By Friday, Katia had strengthened to a category 2 hurricane with 105 mph wind speeds and made landfall late Friday/Early Saturday near Casitas on the Mexican coastline.
Tropical Storm Lee formed on Saturday, September 16 off the coast of Africa and is tracking westwards at 10 mph with wind speeds of 40 mph. It was expected to strengthen slightly by Monday but then weaken back to a tropical depression. However it then strengthened again and by Sunday, September 24 it became a hurricane and four days later it was a major hurricane, the fifth of the 2017 season.
It is well to the East of Bermuda and is not expected to make landfall.
Tropical Storm Maria also formed on Saturday, September 16 and also started tracking westwards at 20 mph with wind speeds of 50 mph. It closely followed Hurricane Irma’s path and quickly strengthened into a hurricane by Sunday.
By Monday, it had strengthened into a major category 5 hurricane with 195 mph winds as it hit Dominica. Maria has become the fourth major hurricane of the 2017 season and the first category 5 hurricane.
It weakened slightly but was still a category 4 hurricane when it crossed Puerto Rico, leaving the entire island without power. At least 45 people have died in the Caribbean including over 30 in Puerto Rico.
Unlike Irma it turned onto a northerly track before reaching the Florida coastline but it tracked very slowly up the Atlantic seaboard and by Wednesday, September 27 it was off Virginia Beach as a category 1 hurricane with wind speeds of 75 mph.
Tropical Storm Nate formed on Thursday, October 5 off the coast of Nicaragua with wind speeds of 40 mph. It made landfall near Puerto Cabezas before crossing into Honduras. It started tracking north northwest with wind speeds of 45 mph and was forecast to clip the top of the Yucatan Peninsula before entering the Gulf of Mexico. In the end it just missed the peninsula but at least 21 people died in its path.
As it started heading towards New Orleans, the Governors in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama all declared states of emergency. In the end it veered slightly to the east and came ashore for a second time in southeast Louisiana before continuing towards Biloxi as a category 1 hurricane with wind speeds of 115 mph on Sunday morning. Up to 10 inches of rain were forecast as well as strong storm surges causing localised flooding.
Nate quickly weakened as it headed inland.
Tropical Storm Ophelia formed on Monday, October 9 in the eastern Atlantic Ocean around 900 miles from the Azores, tracking north northeast with wind speeds of 40 mph. It was expected to strengthen to a category 1 hurricane by Friday and in fact it reached category 2 status with wind speeds of 100 mph.
It was forecast to strengthen further as it continued tracking north eastwards and on Saturday it became a major category 3 hurricane with wind speeds of 115 mph. This makes Ophelia the sixth major hurricane of the season and the furthest east a major hurricane has ever been recorded.
It is no threat to the USA but it is likely to impact on the west coast of Ireland and north western Scotland.
Tropical Storm Emily formed as a Tropical Depression south of Cuba and by Saturday, October 28 it had grown into a Tropical Storm with wind speeds of 50 mph, tracking northwards towards Florida.
By Sunday it was tracking east northeast just west of the Middle Keys with wind speeds of 45 mph. It is expected to track across southern Florida before quickly continuing up the Atlantic coast.