The National Hurricane Center designated Tropical Depression Four for the 2015 Atlantic Hurricane Season on Tuesday. If it strengthens into a tropical storm, which appears likely, it will be named Danny, but the storm is currently well out in the Atlantic heading westward toward the Caribbean Sea. It's far enough out that the U.S. coastline, were there to be a threat to it, would not have to be concerned for nearly two weeks. Fortunately, the tropical weather outlook has been bleak for storms this year. A combination of high wind shear thanks to El Niño, dust blown off the Sahara Desert and dry atmospheric conditions have brought us remarkably stable weather for this deep into the season. But how stable?
We have just entered the climatological peak of hurricane season. The full season begins June 1 and lasts until the end of November, but the vast majority of hurricanes, particularly the most deadly, have historically formed between mid-August and mid-September with the peak right around the end of the first week of September. The average hurricane season for the last 20-plus years has seen about 12 named storms. If Danny does indeed form, it will be the fourth named storm of the year with zero hurricanes thus far.
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Compare that with the busiest hurricane season on record: 2005. That season recorded 28 named storms including 15 hurricanes, most notably Hurricane Katrina. Katrina emerged out of the remnants of Tropical Storm 10, which formed on August 13, 2005. We have not even reached half that number nearly a week beyond that date. While 2005 was an anomalous year in many regards, it does demonstrate just how wildly seasons can vary. For example, 2013 had 14 named storms and only two hurricanes while last year had only eight named storms, but six of those reached hurricane strength.
But, Houstonians with a sense of history understand to be wary of the tropics no matter what the conditions. On August 18, 1983, only the first named storm of the year (much later in the season than even 2015)—Hurricane Alicia—made landfall as a major hurricane on Galveston Island, which underscores both the unpredictability of yearly hurricane seasons and the need to prepare no matter how slow a season is predicted to be (or has been in the case of 2015). It only takes one storm to ruin the year of any city along the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf coastlines.
The likelihood of Tropical Depression Four becoming a hurricane are fairly good despite the generally unfavorable conditions over the course of the summer, but where it will go or how large it will grow is anyone's guess at this point. While forecasting of both track and intensity has improved dramatically in the last 20 years, predictions further than four or five days out should be considered about as accurate as shooting craps.
Nevertheless, what we are experiencing in 2015 pales in comparison to what the Gulf Coast went through 10 years ago. For that, at least, we can be thankful.