The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted this year’s hurricane season would be even worse than last year with the likelihood of 13 to 20 named storms. It was predicted that 7 to 11 of those could become hurricanes.
“These ranges are well above the seasonal average of 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes,” NOAA analysts predicted in May. But so far this year there have been nine named storms and two hurricanes — none of which have been major.
The state of Connecticut, which is still cleaning up from Hurricane Sandy, has been lucky so far this year as no major storms have yet struck the region. That’s left many wondering how the weather experts could have gotten it so wrong.
Douglas Glowacki, Connecticut’s weather adviser, said that predicting weather for an entire season is a difficult task, much harder and much less accurate than a standard one- or two-day weather forecast.
He said there are three major factors that have contributed to the lack of hurricanes this season. The first is wind shear created by tropical activity in the Eastern Pacific. The tropical activity usually ends in the first half of August, but Glowacki said its continuance has created a wind shear that has prevented strong hurricanes from forming.
The second factor is a fairly active northern jet stream that creates fronts that sweep over the Atlantic and tend to create more wind shear and push storms away from the U.S. coast.
The third factor is that the Atlantic waters did not warm up as much as meteorologists had expected, Glowacki said. Warm ocean water provides energy to hurricanes and without this heat, hurricanes and tropical storms lose much of their intensity.
The combination of these factors has resulted in quite a few tropical storms, but only two hurricanes, Humberto and Ingrid, neither of which has impacted Connecticut. In terms of tropical storms, this season is approaching normal with nine named storms. So although this hurricane season is nearly average in terms of storm frequency, it is far below average regarding overall storm power, Glowacki said last week.
But that doesn’t mean residents can become complacent. Hurricane season doesn’t officially end until November.
Connecticut Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security spokesman Scott Devico warned that “it is important to note that residents cannot let their guard down. It only takes one storm to have a devastating impact on the state.”
The first half of a hurricane season has no bearing on how storm-ridden the remainder of the season may be, Glowacki said. Simply because the first half of this hurricane season has been relatively uneventful does not necessarily translate to a tame second half of the season. Chance plays a large role in determining storms, as it did with Hurricane Sandy.
“Sandy is one of those storms that formed at exactly the wrong time at exactly the wrong place,” Glowacki said.
For any given storm that occurs in the Atlantic, Connecticut has about a three percent chance of being impacted and for any given year the state has about a 10 percent chance of being impacted by a hurricane. Hurricane Gloria, which devastated the state in 1985, was the last Category I hurricane to hit Connecticut. Glowacki said that statistically speaking, Connecticut is overdue for a major hurricane.
Hurricane Sandy was a Category 2 hurricane, but it did not hit Connecticut directly. The reason that Sandy was so devastating to the state was because it was, what Glowacki called, a hybrid storm. Hybrid storms like Sandy are powerful because they are able to gain energy from two different sources. Sandy gained energy as a typical hurricane and as a typical winter storm when it hit the state on Oct. 30, 2012.
Despite the predictions of an above average hurricane season and the fear that Connecticut is due for another, Devico said he is confident that the state is taking all the necessary steps to mitigate future devastation.
This past June, as part of legislation passed in 2012, an ice storm was simulated in the Torrington area to test the state’s emergency response preparedness. The way Connecticut responds to an ice storm is the same as how it would respond to a hurricane, Devico said.
In the recent past, response to ice storms has not been as quick as many would have hoped. Connecticut Light and Power came under fire for its slow response time during the 2011 October Nor’easter, leaving tens of thousands of homes and businesses without power for more than a week. Despite this, Devico claims that the state has been coordinating efforts between towns and utility companies for better restoration times. It also has been aggressively trimming trees in an effort to prevent downed electricity wires.
As the state as a whole prepares for another storm, Devico warned that residents must also take the proper steps to ensure both their own safety and the safety of their families.
Devico recommended that residents take three simple steps to prepare themselves for a hurricane: make a survival kit with items such as water, food, a radio, and batteries; make an emergency plan; and stay informed about the trajectory of a storm.
Overall, Devico believes that the state did well in responding to Sandy. However, he said there is always room for improvement.
“We always learn from every drill and every incident that we have. We capitalize on our strengths, and improve on our weaknesses,” Devico said.