Whereas Hurricane Ian which has devasted large areas of Florida was indisputably a monster storm, a basic review of history reveals that media hype connecting it to evidence of a recent “climate change disaster” is entirely unfounded.
Having said this, let’s understand that no one, much less those of us who live in Houston and other areas along the Gulf Coast, need be reminded of widespread terror and tragedy which can be wrought by a single tropical storm or hurricane event.
At the same time, let’s also realize that such occurrences have been experienced with far greater frequency and damaging — sometimes fatal — consequences over the past century and before.
It doesn’t take big Category 4 and 5 high-wind hurricanes to wreak terrible havoc. Slow-moving tropical storms with deluging rainfall and flooding can sometimes be equally bad, or even worse.
Ian, a 150 mph Cat 4 which made landfall on September 28 in Cayo Costa, Florida, near Fort Myers combined both conditions, dumping over a foot of rain on Disney World. For comparison, just a few more mph faster would have qualified as a Cat. 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale.
For larger historical perspective, consider that a review of North Atlantic tropical storm and hurricane patterns fails to reveal any worsening trend over more than a century.
As I have previously reported, Cat 3-4 Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey and Cat 4 Hurricane Irma back in 2017 ended an almost 12-year drought of U.S. landfall Cat 3-5 hurricanes since Wilma in 2005, whereas 14 even stronger Cat 4-5 monsters occurred between 1926 and 1969.
Harvey lost its Cat 4 status shortly after making landfall, but nevertheless, caused catastrophic flood damage as a rain event along the southeast Texas coast. The Houston area received 52 inches of rainfall in four days.
Nevertheless, this wasn’t entirely unique either. Tropical Cyclone Amelia dumped 48 inches on Texas in 1978; Tropical Storm Claudette inundated the town of Alvin, Texas, with 54 inches in 1979, emptying 43 inches in just 24 hours; and Hurricane Easy deluged Florida with 45.2 inches in 1950.
As for recent hurricanes, the 2005 and 1961 seasons shared records for their seven major U.S. landfalls since 1946 when the instrumented wind and pressure database was first considered to be relatively reliable. The year 1983 set the record for the least number, with only one.
Many intense Atlantic storms formed between 1870 and 1899, 19 in the 1887 season alone, but then became infrequent again between 1900 and 1925. The number of destructive hurricanes ramped up between 1926 and 1960, including many major New England events.
Florida has suffered the brunt of major hurricanes that have previously blasted the state’s U.S. coast and northward over a decade between 1950 and 1960. Included were: Hazel (1954), Carol (1954), Connie (1955), Ione (1966), Audrey (1957), Gracie (1959), and Donna (1960).
Ian tied with six other Cat 4 150 mph hurricanes as the 4th largest Florida landfall storm on record in terms of high winds. In rank order, larger Cat 5 events were: the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane, Florida Keys (185 mph); Hurricane Camile, 1969, Mississippi (170 mph); Hurricane Andrew, South Miami, Fla. 1992 (165 mph); and Hurricane Michael, Florida Panhandle, 2018 (160 mph).
Hurricane Charley made landfall in nearly the exact same spot as Hurricane Ian — near Cayo Costa, Florida, on Aug. 13, 2004.
Twenty-one Atlantic tropical storms formed in 1933 alone, a record only most recently exceeded in 2005, which saw 28 storms.
Some of those major tropical storms and lower category hurricanes were notably deadly. “Superstorm Sandy” in 2012 which ravaged the northern East Coast, resulted in more than 100 fatalities.
In terms of known human tragedy, the deadliest event was the Great Hurricane of the Antilles (1780) which struck Barbados causing 22,000 fatalities.
The deadliest to hit the continental U.S. was the Galveston Hurricane of August 29, 1900, which may have killed up to 12,000 people. The Okeechobee Hurricane, also known as the San Filipe Segundo hurricane which struck Florida in 1928 produced 2,500 fatalities.
Katrina had reached a Cat 5 hurricane level in 2005 before hitting the Louisiana coast as a tropical storm which resulted in about 1,800 deaths. It packed wind speeds reaching 175 mph, with a 20-foot storm surge that topped levies.
Projecting when hurricanes will occur is no perfect science.
Back in May of this year, a headline National Oceanic and Atmospheric (NOAA) press release had predicted an above-normal 2022 Atlantic Hurricane season with a 70% chance of 14-21 storms forming, and as many as 10 potentially becoming hurricanes. Three to six of these storms they said could become major hurricanes.
So far, it hasn’t come close to turning out that way. During the first three months since the official start of hurricane season on June 1, not one had yet materialized.
As noted by The Weather Channel (TWC), “It’s The Atlantic Hurricane Season’s Least Active Start In 30 Years” since 1992.
In any case, fewer or more, stronger or not, there’s no factual basis for attributing patterns on climate change — much less on any human influence.
In reality, whereas we can’t change the weather, it truly is in our best interest to anticipate those bad-case circumstances and prepare our communities and households to mitigate against the outcomes.
Whether or not one such event gets hyped on the media as the “biggest ever,” “strongest ever,” “deadliest ever,” or “costliest ever,” it may qualify as the worst ever for you.
Consider this grim reality well in advance of every storm season when there is still time to plan and take prudent preemptive actions. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to forget to do this on nice sunny days.
Larry Bell is an endowed professor of space architecture at the University of Houston where he founded the Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture and the graduate space architecture program. His latest of 12 books is "Architectures Beyond Boxes and Boundaries: My Life By Design" (2022). Read Larry Bell's Reports — More Here.
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