(CNSNews.com) – Today marks the completion of a record-breaking 11 years without a major hurricane striking the U.S. mainland, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
“I can confirm that as of October 24, 2016, it will be a complete 11 years since a major hurricane has struck the United States, as defined by the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale of being a Category 3 or higher,” meteorologist Dennis Feltgen, spokesman for NOAA’s National Hurricane Center (NHC), told CNSNews.com.
“The current streak of no major hurricane landfalls onto the U.S. mainland remains intact. The last one to do so was Hurricane Wilma on October 24, 2005,” Feltgen said.
Category 3 and higher hurricanes are characterized by sustained wind speeds of 111 mph or more and strong storm surges that are capable of causing “devastating” or “catastrophic” damage.
The current 11-year stretch with no major hurricane striking the United States is the longest since record-keeping began, according to NOAA data going back to 1851.
The second-longest major hurricane drought ended 147 years ago: the 8 years, 11 months between September 1860 and August 1869. The third-longest stretch (5 years, 11 months) was between October 1900 and September 1906.
In 2005, the U.S. was pummeled by four major hurricanes – Dennis, Katrina, Rita, and Wilma – which killed nearly 4,000 people and caused nearly $160 billion in damages. That is the only year on record when four major hurricanes have struck the United States.
But since then, no major hurricanes have made landfall in the U.S. However, lower category hurricanes–such as Hurricane Matthew earlier this month and Hurricane Sandy in 2012–have killed dozens of people and caused billions of dollars’ worth of damage.
According to NHC director Rick Knabb, flooding from storm surge is responsible for 9 out of 10 hurricane fatalities in the U.S.
Hurricane Matthew, the first Category 5 hurricane to form in the Atlantic since 2007, roared through the Caribbean as a Category 4 hurricane with torrential rains and wind speeds of 145 mph, leaving 546 people dead and 128 missing in Haiti.
It was the fifth hurricane of the 2016 Atlantic hurricane season, which officially opened on June 1st and ends on November 30th.
However, Matthew had weakened to a Category 1 by the time it made landfall near McClellanville, S.C. on October 8th with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph. The downgraded but still dangerous storm caused extensive flooding in several southeastern states and was responsible for 44 deaths in the U.S., including 24 in North Carolina.
Likewise, Hurricane Sandy had been downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone by the time it made landfall in New Jersey on Oct. 29, 2012.
But Sandy was still strong enough to directly kill 147 people in the U.S., and its “major to record” storm surge caused “extensive damage along large portions of the New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts coasts” estimated at $50 billion, making it “the second-costliest cyclone to hit the United States since 1900,” according to NOAA.
Many climate scientists have predicted that anthropogenic global warming caused by an increase of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere would result in an increase in the number and intensity of hurricanes.
“We expect to see more high-intensity events, category 4 and 5 events, that are around 13% of total hurricanes but do a disproportionate amount of damage…” said Kerry Emanuel, professor of atmospheric science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
“We expect another 3 feet in sea level rise by the end of the century, so we should expect steadily increase[ing] damage,” Emanuel was quoted as saying in an Oct. 5, 2016 article in The Guardian.
But the unprecedented 11-year drought of major hurricanes striking the U.S. has occurred during the same time when CO2 levels were steadily rising, as measured by the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, which maintains “the longest record of direct measurements of CO2 in the atmosphere,” according to NOAA.
“You and many other climate scientists have predicted an increase in hurricane activity due to anthropogenic global warming. But with carbon dioxide levels at a record high, why are we now seeing the longest major hurricane drought on record here in the U.S.?” CNSNews asked Emanuel.
“One must be aware that the North Atlantic has only 11 percent of the world’s hurricanes, and that we do not expect the global warming signal to be seen in global statistics for several decades,” he replied. “By the time one drills down to major U.S. landfalls, a tiny percentage of total activity, it may be decades to detect a signal.
“As you know, Matthew was a very near miss. That would have ended the drought, but not solved the problem of trying to detect a climate signal in a very tiny subset of global hurricane activity,” Emanuel said.
CNSNews posed the same question to oceanographer and Climate Progress founding editor Joe Romm, who also predicted an increase in hurricane activity due to climate change, and who recently wrote that “Hurricane Matthew is super strong – because of climate change.”
“You have fallen into a mostly semantic trap,” he replied, referring to an article he wrote for ClimateProgress arguing that NOAA’s criteria for defining a major hurricane is flawed.
“The media should be reporting that in a world where storm surge is causing most of the devastation for the most destructive hurricanes, defining a ‘major’ hurricane around its wind speed (at landfall) is archaic at best and wildly misleading at worst,” Romm wrote.
But Climate Depot publisher Marc Morano pointed out that those who predicted more major hurricane activity due to climate change now want to change the definition of a major hurricane because their predictions have fallen short of reality.
“With a new metric, warmists can declare every storm ‘unprecedented’ and a new ‘record’,” Morano said.
CNSNews also asked Dr. Philip Klotzbach, a research scientist at Colorado State’s Dept. of Atmospheric Science, why no major hurricanes have struck the U.S. in 11 years despite record levels of CO2 in the atmosphere.
“U.S. landfalling hurricanes are a small sample of all hurricanes occurring in the North Atlantic,” he replied. “Overall, hurricane activity has been at about average levels over the past 11 years.”
“In summary, it’s a combination of luck and a relatively persistent trough of low pressure along the East Coast. Obviously in the case of Hurricane Matthew, we came within about 50 miles of ending that streak two weeks ago!” Klotzbach told CNSNews.
However, he added that global major hurricane activity has not increased over the past three decades despite rising CO2 levels.
“Several recent observational studies have shown a lack of increase in global major hurricane activity over the past 30 years,” Klotzbach said, pointing to a paper he authored with HRC’s Chris Landsea last year showing that “accumulated cyclone energy globally (ACE) has experienced a large and significant downward trend…
“Given the large natural variability driven by ENSO [El Nino Southern Oscillation] and other natural phenomena, it is likely to be challenging to confidently ascribe an anthropogenic signal to changes in the most intense tropical cyclones for the next several decades,” they wrote.