U.S. coastal interests need not give an iota about this particular one, but with the formation of Theta the 2020 Atlantic Basin hurricane season officially set a record for the highest number of “named” storms — 29.
“There’s no doubt this has been an extremely busy year,” said Christopher Landsea, chief of the National Hurricane Center’s Tropical Analysis and Forecasting Branch.
But he cautioned that comparing the 2020 season with those of prior years would be “really problematical,” given the advances in storm monitoring and detection that have continued to improve since the incredibly destructive 2005 season. That was the previous record holder for named storms — those with winds of 39 mph or better — with 28.
This has been a harvest year for the “short lived” storm, he said, the kind that used to live in anonymity, and the ability to see them has been a tremendous boon to shipping safety.
So far, 2020 has spawned five major hurricanes, those with winds of 111 mph or more, the fourth most in the satellite era that dates to 1966, according to Philip Klotzbach, hurricane specialist at Colorado State University.
It has been a particularly punitive one for the Gulf Coast, where a record 10 tropical storms have made landfall, and a nightmare for Louisiana, where Hurricane Laura was blamed for killing at least 14 people.
However, the season is only No. 11 in terms of “accumulated cyclone energy," a measure based on total numbers of storms, durations, and intensities, he said, ranking well behind 2005, the year of Katrina, and 1933, which he said would be No. 1, even though officially it had fewer named storms, 20. (Analytics aren’t just for baseball.)
Landsea said that in all likelihood 1933 produced more than those 20. Satellite detection has made a quantum difference, given that about half of all storms never reach land and that ships, which might encounter those storms (ask Columbus), cover only about half the tropical Atlantic.
He noted that in 2020, eight storms didn’t survive beyond two days. With the weak storms removed, “it would make 1933 at least comparable to today," he said.
Theta appears to be another one destined to prowl the Atlantic. On Tuesday afternoon it was meandering toward the African west coast, ordinarily a starting point rather than destination.
Tropical Eta, meanwhile, was about 70 miles west of the Cuban west coast and proceeding north toward the Gulf Coast, where it was due to lose its naming status before landfall sometime Sunday.
This marked the first time since 1877 that two named storms were circulating in the basin so late in the season, which ends Nov. 30.
And it’s not quite over. The National Hurricane Center gives a disturbance in the Caribbean a 70% chance of becoming Iota by the end of the weekend.