Record-shattering 2017 hurricane season leaves trail of mayhem and misery

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Three Atlantic hurricanes were lined up on September 8 . From left to right: Hurricane Katia, which made landfall in Mexico; Hurricane Irma, which pounded Florida two days later; and Hurricane Jose, nearing the Lesser Antilles. (Image credit: NOAA)

The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season heads for the history books Thursday, finally gone but never forgotten.

It ends with record property damage of $368 billion, and at hundreds of deaths — perhaps many more since Hurricane Maria took such a toll on Puerto Rico that the number of fatalities remains in dispute.

The season’s emotional toll will remain incalculable.

The final total of 17 named storms, 10 hurricanes and six major hurricanes made 2017 much above average, but numbers alone don’t come close to describing the trail of catastrophe it left in its wake. The peak of the season from late August to the end of September was so brutal and other years — even the infamous 2005 — pale in comparison.

September generated the most major hurricane days — 17.5 — of any calendar month in the Atlantic on record,  Colorado State University hurricane researcher Philip Klotzbach said.

The 2017 season “will end up a top 10 season by most tropical cyclone metrics,” Klotzbach  said on Twitter. The year had 19.25 major hurricane days — 494 percent over the median of 3.9 from 1981 to 2010, he said, and named storm days (91.25) was 152 percent of the median.

September broke records for named storm days (53.5); hurricane days (40.25); major hurricane days (18); and Accumulated Cyclone Energy (175), he said.

It was a busy early season — but pretty much par for the course — until mid-August, when some eye-popping tropical activity began. Tropical Storm Emily did cause some havoc in Florida when it made landfall on the West-Central peninsula with winds of 45 mph, and caused a tornado near Bradenton. Emily also brought heavy rain to parts of Florida’s East Coast.

But the real misery train began pulling out of the station on August 24, the 25th anniversary of Category 5 Hurricane Andrew’s strike on South Florida. August 24 was the day Tropical Storm Harvey began rapidly intensifying in the Gulf of Mexico’s Bay of Campeche. It reached Category 4 intensity late the next day.

Forecast models suggested an almost unbelievable scenario was about to unfold: Harvey would make landfall on the Texas Coast as a powerful Category 4 storm, and then stall out for days as atmospheric steering currents collapsed.

AccuWeather summed things up with the headline: “Hurricane Harvey poised to unleash flooding disaster on Texas into early next week.”

“Some communities could be under water for days,” the commercial forecasting service said.

Harvey was still a named storm 117 hours after landfall, as it drifted back into the Gulf of moved toward the Louisiana coast. Up to 60 inches of rain was recorded in several parts of coastal Texas, and Houston’s airport officially measured 37 inches.

The season’s follow-up act — Hurricane Irma — looked like trouble from the moment it formed far out in the Atlantic. Major forecast models predicted as early as August 31 that Irma would hit the Florida Keys or peninsula.

Irma reached Category 5 strength as it battered the Caribbean, and both Barbuda and Saint Martin were reported to be 95 percent destroyed by the storm.

It made landfall on Cudjoe Key on September 10 with 130 mph winds and then clobbered Marco Island off Florida’s Southwest Coast with 115 mph winds.

On Saturday, September 9, the National Hurricane Center put the entire coast of the Florida peninsula — from Jacksonville on the East Coast down through the Keys and up the West Coast to just south of Tallahassee — under a Hurricane Warning. Even the Florida panhandle was under a Hurricane Watch or Tropical Storm Watch.

Thousands of residents evacuated as the NHC forecast a major hurricane to slide up Florida’s East Coast, then up the spine of the state, and finally up the West Coast. But by the time the track was set for the West Coast, Florida’s roads were already clogged in a nightmarish evacuation scene that lasted for several days.

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(Credit: NWS-Key West)

The highest wind gust from Irma was measured at 120 mph in Big Pine Key, but Irma cut a path of destruction up the entire Florida peninsula and even caused damage in Georgia as a tropical storm.

Hurricane Maria, the 10th most intense hurricane on record, devastated Dominica in the Caribbean and went on to cause catastrophic damage in Puerto Rico, where power outages are expected to continue well into next year.

Hurricane Nate made landfall on the Northern Gulf Coast as a Category 1 hurricane on October 8, and the development of Hurricane Ophelia several days later gave 2017 an unprecedented 10 hurricanes in a row.

Although the final storm — during the official season, at least — was Tropical Storm Rina — the last system to impact Florida was Tropical Storm Philippe on October 28-29. Philippe spawned a tornado near West Palm Beach and dropped more than 6 inches of rain.

“While the season was very active, it will be most remembered for several hurricanes that devastated portions of the continental United States as well as islands in the Caribbean and other parts of the tropical Atlantic,” Klotzbach said in the newly-released CSU post-season report.

“Hurricane Harvey brought epic flooding to the Houston metropolitan area, while Irma and Maria both brought devastation to islands throughout the Caribbean and tropical Atlantic.

“Irma also made landfall in the Florida Keys as a Category 4, pummeling the Keys and bringing considerable damage to mainland Florida as well. The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was also the first season on record (since 1851) to have two Category 4 hurricanes make continental United States landfall in the same year (Harvey and Irma).”

Click here to read the full analysis.

CSU will issue its 2018 hurricane season outlook on December 13.

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NHC sees quiet end to record-setting hurricane season

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(Credit: NHC)

Looks like you can stick a fork in the 2017 hurricane season — it’s done.

The National Hurricane Center’s five-day Tropical Weather Outlook issued Sunday calls for a quiet Atlantic through Friday, one day after the official end of the season on Thursday.

As crazy as this year was, the Atlantic apparently closed up shop after Tropical Storm Rina dissipated on November 9, as high wind shear prevented anything else from gaining a foothold.

The 2017 total would go into the books with 17 named storms, 10 hurricanes and six majors. There were 464 fatalities — although the death toll is still being analyzed in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria — and 2017 is the costliest hurricane season on record, causing $367 billion in damage.

That total assumes there are no surprises in December. NOAA’s GFS and the European model (ECMWF) are hinting at a system spinning up in the Central Atlantic the first week of the new month, but it’s unclear whether it might be tropical, subtropical or non-tropical.

Off-season storms are more common in April and May (the hurricane season runs from June 1 – November 30), but they can also occur in December. The last was an unnamed subtropical storm December 5-7, 2013. Tropical Storm Olga spun up on December 11, 2007.

Colorado State University’s Philip Klotzbach should have a season wrap-up this week, and CSU publishes an outlook for next year around mid-December.

A lot of what happens in 2018 depends on conditions in the Tropical Pacific. The 2017-2018 winter will be impacted by a La Niña — cooler than normal water in the Pacific — and when a La Niña occurs in summer and fall that usually makes for an active hurricane season.

But for now, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting neutral conditions for next summer, with chances of an El Niño increasing slightly but still down at around 25 percent. An El Niño would keep a lid on tropical development next year, but the way things look right now that’s not likely to happen.

ENSO forecast

Neutral conditions may be in place in the Tropical Pacific for the start of next year’s hurricane season, with a slight increase in El Niño chances. (Image credit: NOAA/ CPC)

Monday wind chills could drop into 30s in North Florida, forecasters say

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Credit: NWS-Jacksonville

Looks like Florida will be on a meteorological rollercoaster over the coming week, with temperatures seesawing and conditions going from dry to wet and back to dry again.

While it’s unclear how much rain may fall on South and Central Florida, forecasters are fairly certain about the upcoming cold front’s impact on North Florida — near-freezing temperatures by Monday morning.

In fact, temperatures west of Jacksonville could plunge almost 50 degrees from Sunday afternoon to Monday morning.

The front, which is expected to sweep down the peninsula late Sunday, should leave most of its cold air behind by the time it stalls out over the Keys, forecasters say. But with the boundary lingering into mid-week — and then pushing back over South Florida Wednesday as a warm front — rain chances in central and southern areas shoot up to 50 percent on Thanksgiving Day.

“There may be enough instability to induce a few thunderstorms Tuesday afternoon,” NWS forecasters in Miami said.

South Florida temperatures, however, will pretty much stay put, with highs in the upper 70s to near 80 and lows in the 60s.

But in North Florida, NWS forecasters in Jacksonville noted Saturday: “Huge temperature swings will occur during the weekend over northeast Florida and southeast Georgia. Ahead of an approaching cold front, mostly sunny skies will boost highs to near 80 degrees on Saturday afternoon.

“A few showers will accompany the frontal passage during the predawn and morning hours on Sunday, followed by much colder temperatures on Sunday night. Inland lows will fall into the 30s by Monday morning, with a north-northeasterly breeze dropping wind chills to near freezing for locations west of Interstate 95.”

Forecast models are handling the evolution of a potential low pressure system in the Gulf of Mexico differently, so the end-of-the-week forecast for the Florida peninsula remains murky. NOAA’s GFS has all of the moisture clearing out and cooler weather moving in, while the European model (ECMWF) predicts the stalled front will continue to linger.

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(Credit: NOAA/ CPC)

DECEMBER SNEAK PEEK: The Climate Prediction Center’s new long-range forecast, released Friday, calls for below normal precipitation throughout Florida and most of the Central U.S., through December 15. Forecasters hedged their bets on long-range temperatures for the eastern U.S., saying there are equal chances of above or below normal temperatures.

THAT’S ALL FOLKS!? Chances of tropical development for an area of disturbed weather in the southern Caribbean fell from 20 percent Friday to near-zero on Saturday, the National Hurricane Center said.

With only 12 days left in the 2017 hurricane season, you have to wonder if Nature might be getting ready to close up shop.

Wet holiday week to be aided by developing Gulf low, forecasters say

Sunday Gulf low

Low pressure was forecast to form in the Gulf of Mexico Sunday in connection with a cold front approaching the Florida peninsula. (Credit: NOAA/ WPC)

The cold front scheduled to roll down the peninsula early next week is now forecast to stall over the keys and then drift back to the north over Central Florida, keeping most of the state in soupy conditions during the holiday week.

Not only that, but the National Weather Service expects the front to spawn a weak low pressure system in the Gulf of Mexico that works its way east toward the state by Thanksgiving weekend.

The low showed up in the Friday runs of all of the major forecast models, including the GFS and European (ECMWF) as well as the Canadian (CMC).

NWS forecasters in Miami said in their Friday discussion: “Consensus of model guidance has the shortwave trough deepening into a closed low pressure system on Wednesday, slowly progressing eastward, with the ECMWF continuing its trend of a stronger surface and mid-level low than the GFS.

“A composite of the global model guidance points the front becoming nearly stationary over Central Florida as the closed low in the Gulf moves slowly east through Thanksgiving Day.

“This scenario should keep rain chances fairly high Wednesday through Thanksgiving Day, but with low confidence in the details of the evolving pattern next week, wouldn’t be surprised to see changes in timing and coverage of any precipitation over the next few days.”

For now, NOAA’s Weather Prediction Center shows about an inch of rain falling over the next week near Palm Beach, but heavier amounts around the northern Gulf Coast.

Until the front comes into play — it should approach North Florida on Sunday — a Chamber of Commerce weekend looks to be in the works for much of the Florida peninsula. Highs in South Florida are expected to be around 80 with lows in the mid-60s under sunshine and drier conditions.

Rain chances jump to 30 percent Sunday night in South Florida and shoot up to 50 percent by Tuesday.

HISTORICAL NOTE: Next week is the 33rd anniversary of the Thanksgiving storm that raked the Florida peninsula with strong winds and rain. It was a very complex scenario later analyzed by meteorologists and explained in detail in this National Weather Service report.

TROPICS WATCH: The National Hurricane Center said an area in the southern Caribbean had a 20 percent chance of development as it moves north.

“Regardless of development, heavy rainfall is possible over portions of the northwestern coast of Colombia, Hispaniola, and Puerto Rico through the weekend,” forecasters said in Friday’s Tropical Weather Outlook.

Will Florida cold front flop? Plus, NHC turns attention to Caribbean

Thursday Caribbean sat

TROPICS WATCH: With Invest 96L near the Azores off the boards, National Hurricane Center forecasters turned to the southern Caribbean, where an area of showers and storms was given a 10 percent chance of development over the next two to five days. Most major forecast models, with the exception of the Canadian (CMC), don’t show much potential for this system.

Wind shear is in the 40-50 knot range in the Central Caribbean, although it’s lower in the eastern Caribbean. (Image credits: Top, NOAA; Bottom: NOAA/ NHC)

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It’s beginning to look like next week’s pre-Thanksgiving cold front may be more ho-hum than a holiday game changer.

For one thing, the front is now expected to stall over the southern peninsula or the Keys on Tuesday and leave most of the cooler air to the north, although South Florida’s overnight temperatures could sink into the 60s next week.

Even that would mark a weather pattern change, however.

Through the first half of the month, none of the four National Weather Service official reporting stations — Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach or Naples — had a high temperature below 80 degrees. Miami had three highs of 87, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach had a few days that reached 85, and Naples had two high temperatures of 86.

Key West actually had a high of 79 Wednesday to round out the first half of the month, but that was primarily because measurable rain fell for only the second time in November — 0.03 of an inch.

In Central Florida, Melbourne, Vero Beach and Fort Pierce each had one sub-80-degree day this month; Orlando had four.

On Florida’s West Coast, Tampa had one high below 80; Fort Myers, zero.

Major weather observation sites around Florida have been running 2-5 degrees above average during the first half of November, and next week’s temperatures may cool slightly into the more normal range.

In South Florida, that’s high 70s to near 80 during the day and upper 60s at night.

The new long-range forecasts issued by NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center Thursday called for above-normal temperatures in Florida from December through February, with below-average precipitation.

This is mostly due to the La Niña effect, which tends to keep the southern tier of states warm and dry in the winter.

 

Will Florida’s Thanksgiving be a turkey or a piece of cake? Check out the forecasts

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A cold Thanksgiving week is expected in the East, with near-normal temperatures in the Central U.S. and warmer weather in the West. (Image credit: NOAA/ CPC)

Nature is getting ready to dish up some cooler weather for Thanksgiving in Florida, with cloudy mashed potato skies in the south and a side order of spotty showers.

Weather Underground is calling for a blustery high of 74 in Palm Beach; 76 in Miami; and 78 in Key West with a chance of rain. The West Coast — and North-Central Florida — may be sunnier but cooler with a forecast high of 74 in Naples, 70 in Tampa and 75 in Orlando..

Thanksgiving Day is forecast to be sunny in Gainesville but the high won’t reach 70 on the way to a chilly overnight low of 45.

AccuWeather is predicting slightly warmer temperatures around the state, but a chance of rain pretty much everywhere.

We’re still a week out from the holiday, so nature has time to reconsider the menu. The National Weather Service forecast won’t come out of the oven until Friday.

Regardless of what shows up on the table, Florida is likely to have some of the nicest holiday weather in the country, with the possible exception of the Southwest, where the forecast high from Phoenix to Los Angeles is around 80 under sunny skies.

Chicago and Minneapolis are forecast to barely make it above freezing on Thanksgiving; and New York will top out in the low 40s.

In the West, Denver is expected to be sunny but cool with a high in the upper 50s; Seattle’s forecast is for low 50s and rain.

The Farmers’ Almanac released its Thanksgiving forecast this week, calling for rain mixed with snow in parts of the Northeast; “deteriorating conditions” with cold and wet weather around the Great Lakes; cold wind and rain around most of the Southeast; snow in the Great Plains; and “unsettled” weather across much of the Southwest, including snow in the mountains of Nevada and California.

TROPICS WATCH: It appeared Wednesday morning that Invest 96L was running out of steam in the North Atlantic as it neared the Azores. The National Hurricane Center knocked down development chances from 50 percent to just 10 percent. Forecasters said dissipation was likely over the next two days as it continues to move northeast.

Elsewhere, Wednesday morning’s run of the GFS backed away from any significant development in the Caribbean over the next week to 10 days, although the Canadian model (CMC) continued to advertise a storm that slides over Jamaica on Wednesday and Eastern Cuba on Thanksgiving Day.

Thanksgiving week cold front may gobble up Florida heat, humidity

Cooling trend

South Florida temps are forecast to cool down heading into the weekend, with a more significant shot of cool, dry air for Thanksgiving week. (Image credit: NWS-Miami)

We’re still in the first half of November, but weather on Florida’s East Coast over the last week to 10 days has been behaving more like the rainy season than the start of the dry season. Warm daytime temperatures are broken by afternoon thunderstorms and the occasional bout of heavy rain.

Dew points have been mostly in the low- to mid-70s in South Florida and the Keys, and as far north as Vero Beach. Those are dew points you tend to see in September, not November.

The heat index Sunday topped out at 91 degrees in Miami.

Rain chances in southeastern Florida remain in the 40-50 percent range through Wednesday night.

That pattern may finally be on its way out for good next weekend, according to the National Weather Service, as a game-changing front finally makes it through the peninsula.

Morning temperatures next Monday, November 20 — according to Weather Underground — could dip into the 50s as far south as coastal Palm Beach County, with highs only in the low- to mid-70s during the days leading up to Thursday, Thanksgiving Day.

Out in the western communities and the Everglades, temperatures could bottom out closer to 50. Central Florida may dip into the 40s.

After a brief warm-up mid-week and the start of Thanksgiving weekend, another shot of cool and dry air — but not cold — may settle in for the final week of the month, according to AccuWeather.

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center forecasts below normal precipitation taking hold in Florida — and much of the Southeastern U.S. — the last week in November and the first week of December.

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(Credit: NHC)

TROPICS WATCH: Invest 96L southwest of the Azores in the Atlantic had a 30-50 percent chance of becoming a subtropical system later this week, the National Hurricane Center said Monday. On its current path, it could impact the Azores as Subtropical Storm Sean, or perhaps as a depression.

Monday’s run of the GFS continued to suggest the development of a storm in the southern Caribbean that whacks Central America Thanksgiving weekend. And both the GFS and the European (ECMWF) forecast a weak low forming over the Central Bahamas mid-week and then strengthening as it slides to the northeast.