The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season has reached the climatological halfway point, and already 13 records for early forming storms have fallen. Two more could follow in the next few days.
On average, Sept. 8 — which happens to be the anniversary of the landfall of the devastating Galveston hurricane of 1900 — is the date that the sixth named storm of the season forms. The 2020 number stands at 17; the average for the entire June 1 to Nov. 30 season is 11.
The newest additions, Paulette and Rene (the list is Q-less), are the earliest-forming 16th and 17th storms of any season in the satellite era, and add to a string of records that began with Edouard in early July. To earn a name, a storm needs peak winds of at least 39 mph.
Five have become hurricanes, with winds of 74 mph or better; on average the season’s third hurricane doesn’t form until Sept. 9, and the normal for the entire season is six.
Neither of the recent entries should affect the Philadelphia region, as both should stay well out in the North Atlantic.
“Paulette is going to be a fish storm, and Rene also is going to be a fish storm,” said Ray Kruzdlo, the hydrologist at the National Weather Service office in Mount Holly.
But a disturbance off the Southeast coast, which the hurricane center says has a 40% chance of earning a name, could move northwest and add a dash of juice to local rainfall in the next several days, he said.
Meanwhile, yet another feature in western Africa is given a 70% chance of becoming a tropical storm, and nothing suggests that the hyperactivity is going to wane.
In the satellite era (since 1966), the record for named storms in any season in the basin, which includes the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, is 28, set in 2005. That year, the P storm formed on Sept. 17; Paulette beat it by 10 days.
This season is on the verge of running through the alphabet — the letters Q, U, X, Y, and Z aren’t used, by international convention — and when it does, the names will move to the Greek alphabet, starting with Alpha.
Back in 1900, when a hurricane leveled the prosperous port city of Galveston, Texas, tropical storms didn’t have names, although that one has since earned the moniker Issac’s Storm, from the title of Erik Larson’s book that lionized weatherman Isaac Cline.
The storm, which made landfall on Sept. 8, ranks as the deadliest U.S. natural disaster on record, claiming at least 8,000 lives.
Winds up to 140 mph and storm surge of 15 feet-plus caused catastrophic destruction. Eyewitnesses told of “dead bodies all lying in the ruins, little babies in mothers’ arms.” Corpses were towed on barges and cast into the Gulf of Mexico, only to be washed ashore. Many of the bodies were burned along with the storm’s wreckage.
It also ranks as the second-costliest hurricane behind the Miami hurricane of September 1926, based on an analysis by the ICAT insurance service that takes into account inflation and today’s levels of building.
Interestingly, No. 5 for cost was the Galveston hurricane of 1915, and the wall built after the 1900 storm evidently lessened the damage. That wall, about 10 miles long, remains, but the Galveston area and other parts of the Gulf Coast continue to struggle with serious erosion problems.
A side note: The 1900 storm long predates the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the era of federal disaster assistance. The wall was built primarily with private funds.