Atlantic Hurricane Season Is Off to a Quiet Start, But History Shows Why It Might Not End That Way

Linda Lam
Published: August 23, 2019

The 2019 Atlantic hurricane season is off to a quiet start, but all five years that saw fewer activity to this point in the season still produced at least one major hurricane (Category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale).

So far this year, the Atlantic hurricane season has been the sixth quietest since the satellite era began in 1966, according to Phil Klotzbach, tropical scientist at Colorado State University. This activity is measured using a metric called accumulated cyclone energy, which sums up all the named storms, how long they lasted and how strong they became.

There have been three named storms in 2019 in the Atlantic, none of which have been long-lasting or strong: Andrea which was a short lived subtropical storm south of Bermuda in May; Hurricane Barry, which formed in the Gulf of Mexico and made landfall in Louisiana in July; and Tropical Storm Chantal, which formed in the North Atlantic Ocean in August. Tropical Depression Three also joined that list when it formed near the Bahamas and Florida in July.

(MORE: Hurricane Barry Recap

Typically, by Aug. 23, four named systems have formed and one or two of those have become hurricanes, so this year is just slightly behind those averages.

Tracks of named Atlantic storms as of Aug. 23, 2019.

However, a relatively quiet season so far does not mean it will stay that way.

The peak of hurricane season occurs in late August and September and most named storms and hurricanes develop after mid-August.

Therefore, it is important to be prepared as the relative calm experienced so far will likely not last and there are signs that activity in the Atlantic may be increasing.

Named Storm Frequency

A Look Back at the Five Quieter Seasons Than 2019

2002 was the last year there was a quieter start to hurricane season. That year saw Hurricane Isidore form in mid-September and become a Category 3 hurricane.

It made landfall in western Cuba as a Category 1 hurricane and then in Louisiana as a tropical storm. Hurricane Lili strengthened into a Category 4 hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. Lili made landfall in Louisiana as a Category 1 hurricane, causing 14 deaths and around $1 billion in damages.

List of major hurricanes that formed in the 5 years that were quieter than 2019 to date.

In 1988, three storms intensified into major hurricanes after a quiet start to the season. Hurricane Gilbert reached Category 5 strength in September and was the most intense Atlantic hurricane ever observed, based on central pressure, until Wilma in 2005.

Gilbert moved over Jamaica as a Category 3 hurricane and made landfall on the Yucatan Peninsula as a Category 5 hurricane before making a final landfall in northeastern Mexico. More than 300 deaths were attributed to Gilbert and damage was estimated to be nearly $10 billion.

Helene and Joan, the other two major hurricanes in 1988, also reached Category 4 strength. Helene did not impact land, but Joan had an unusual track along the South American coast before it made landfall in Nicaragua at its peak intensity

In 1984, Hurricane Diana strengthened into a Category 4 hurricane in September. It tracked near the East Coast of the U.S. and made landfall in North Carolina as a Category 2 hurricane. Damages totaled $65.5 million and the storm led to three deaths.

Tracks of major hurricanes that formed in 2002, 1988, 1984, 1977 and 1967.

Hurricane Anita was the first named storm of the 1977 Atlantic hurricane season and developed in the Gulf of Mexico in late August. Anita rapidly strengthened into a Category 5 hurricane and made landfall in northeastern Mexico as a Category 4 storm. Extensive damage to villages in northeastern Mexico was reported and at least 10 people died from flooding and landslides.

Hurricane Beulah became a tropical depression just east of the Leeward Islands in early September 1967. It kept strengthening as it passed near Hispaniola before weakening to a tropical storm. Beulah then intensified again and made landfall in the Yucatan Peninsula as a Category 3 hurricane. After it emerged in the Gulf of Mexico it reached Category 5 strength and made landfall near the Texas/Mexico border as a Category 3 hurricane.

Beulah moved slowly inland and resulted in record flooding. There were 58 deaths due to the storm and it caused more than $1.5 billion in damages (adjusted for inflation).

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