Hurricane Rina reminder that late-season hurricanes happen
The spooky thing about the end of October is that Halloween does NOT signal the end of hurricane season. Hurricane Rina is reminding us that there is (at least) more than one month left – and that maybe around Thanksgiving Floridians can exhale as the season officially ends. Maybe.
As I write this, Hurricane Rina is heading to Cancun, and there is a good chance she may be downgraded to a tropical storm before landfall. Earlier in the week, the storm forecast for Florida contained wording that declared a direct impact was “highly uncertain or unlikely.” Those terms don’t seem congruent: Highly uncertain means a storm may hit, while highly unlikely tells me to relax. Early weather warnings also said that hurricane models were “in disagreement” over where the storm may go with half of the models taking Rina westward and other models predicting she’d move more north. Computer software disagreements aside, it is a reminder that hurricanes do offer an opportunity for advance warning, yet Mother Nature maintains the upper hand over technology.
Late season hurricanes are not as rare as we’d like to think. Remember that Hurricane Wilma hit Florida on October 24, 2005. Storm summaries published in NOAA’s Monthly Weather Review show that over the past 70 years, there were 10 deadly hurricanes that caused loss of life in the November-December timeframe. Yes, a hurricane can occur in December. Hurricane Alice formed December 30, 1954, so it was the first hurricane of the 1955 season and carries the distinction of being the only Atlantic hurricane to span two years since it dissipated seven days later. Imagine celebrating the New Year with a hurricane on the way. That’s guaranteed to put a damper on the party.
Of those 10 late season hurricanes, seven occurred in the past 20 years, according to information in the Weather Underground. Off-season hurricanes are most likely to occur in the central to western Atlantic Ocean, and most do not make landfall. Whew! Of the storms that do make it to land, the area most vulnerable are the islands of Hispaniola and Cuba. The strongest recorded hurricane that occurred outside of the hurricane season occurred early. Hurricane Able formed May 15, 1951 and did minimal damage. So, it ain’t over.