The last time Floridians were forced to evacuate or board up their homes, tweeting was for the birds, YouTube was just a baby, and the first iPhone wasn’t even a rumor. The 2015 Atlantic Hurricane Season officially came to a close Monday, and the state’s longest stretch without a direct hit from a hurricane (Wilma, 2005) will extend into another year. While the eleven named storms and four hurricanes would appear “normal” by the books (12, 6), the season - as predicted - was relatively quiet by most measures of strength and impact.
That’s not to say there weren’t a few scares and surprises. Near-misses from Tropical Storm Erika and Major Hurricane Joaquin were challenging storms for even the most experienced forecasters. Thankfully though, empty grocery store shelves and a rash of media criticism were the only consequences in Florida. Two cyclones did make landfall in the United States, but they were weak, short-lived tropical storms well removed from the season’s traditional peak in September.
The preseason expectations that a strong El Nino would play a large role in quelling storm formation across the Atlantic Basin came true, in particular where cyclones often tend to mature. Nearly all of the systems were either deflected or ripped apart by fierce upper-level winds, a byproduct of the phenomenon. In contrast, the record warm El Nino waters in the Pacific Basin produced a record-smashing number of cyclones, one in particular (Patricia) that became the strongest ever measured in the western hemisphere!
Here’s a look back on the somewhat eventful, yet relatively quiet 2015 Atlantic Hurricane Season.
The 2015 season started before it officially began. Tropical Storm Ana was the earliest tropical cyclone to make landfall in the United States and the earliest named storm to form since 2003. It was the first of many flooding rain events this year in the Carolinas, sliding ashore near Myrtle Beach on May 10. Ana caused minor property damage and only few sporadic power outages.
Tropical Storms Bill and Claudette were similarly weak, but both menacing. Bill dumped up to a foot of rain across a wide swath of real estate from Texas to Ohio on June 16 and 17, forcing thousands from their homes and aggravating an ongoing major river flooding event that produced $17 million in property damage. The season’s lone July storm, Claudette, lasted less than two days, resulting in only minimal coastal impacts from North Carolina to Newfoundland.
The season’s first hurricane, Danny, carved out a path that was followed by the next seven storms. Once briefly a Major Hurricane, the cyclone formed and strengthened well out to sea, but never threatened the U.S. mainland. It was apparent by September that an El Nino-induced “cyclone graveyard” was in place across the western Atlantic and Caribbean. We dubbed this area as such because of the unfavorable upper-level winds that were forcing storms away or causing them to dissipate altogether. Fred, Grace, Henri, Tropical Depression Nine and Ida all fell victim to these conditions.
Most Floridians will remember Tropical Storm Erika as the only formidable threat in 2015. Erika formed in an area similar to Danny, but a weakness in the upper-level winds gave it an opportunity to make landfall in Florida as a hurricane. However, a slight shift in the storm’s trajectory took it across the mountainous island of Hispaniola where it dissipated and eventually produced beneficial rain for South Florida.
September, usually the season’s most-active month, certainly lived up to the billing. Six cyclones were active at some point during the 30-day period, but they too were no match for the tenacious upper-level conditions. Other than a rare hit to the Cape Verde Islands by Hurricane Fred, there were no land impacts by any tropical cyclone in September.
Upper-level conditions became briefly more favorable for cyclone maturation in early October, and the season’s strongest storm was the result. Hurricane Joaquin will be remembered for generations in the Bahamas after battering the central islands with Category 4 strength winds of 155 mph. Poor forecast modeling from a rare upper-level steering pattern made it difficult for forecasters to provide much warning to residents in its path. Joaquin was the strongest Atlantic hurricane since Igor in 2010, and the storm’s erratic and slow movement claimed 34 lives and produced $60 million in damage. Despite passing within 300 miles of Florida’s east coast, impacts were limited to rough seas and rip currents before the storm escaped out to sea.
Hurricane Kate, the season’s final storm, moved quickly through the western Atlantic in mid-November and never posed a serious threat to land. Even though the hurricane season is over, it should be noted that Florida faces an above-normal risk of severe weather this winter from the same El Nino that suppressed tropical activity. While it’s not possible to forecast specific storms or impacts months in advance, now is a good time to set up your customized alerts on the free mobile app, Florida Storms. It’s a free service of the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network and available on the iOS and Google Play store today.
(Editor's note: this article was co-authored by UF Forecaster Dan Henry and Meteorologist Jeff Huffman)