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Tracking the Tropics: Lessons learned from the 2022 Atlantic Hurricane season

WRIC Richmond logo WRIC Richmond 11/30/2022 Dylan Abad
Tracking the Tropics: Lessons learned from the 2022 Atlantic Hurricane season © Provided by WRIC Richmond Tracking the Tropics: Lessons learned from the 2022 Atlantic Hurricane season

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) - While the last day of November marked the official end to a near-average 2022 Atlantic Hurricane season, it was anything but uneventful.

WFLA’s Chief Meteorologist Jeff Berardelli and Storm Team 8 Meteorologist Rebecca Barry sat down with Hurricane Specialist John Cangialosi from the National Hurricane Center to recap this season’s most severe storms, and what we’ve learned from them.

Near-average season

Storm activity during this year’s Atlantic hurricane season was slightly below average with just 14 named systems tracked from June 1 to Nov. 30. Of those, eight were hurricanes and two were major hurricanes. The biggest named systems to impact the southeast U.S. were namely Hurricane Ian and Hurricane Nicole, which arrived in the final months of the season.

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In comparison, the NHC tracked a total of 21 named systems during the 2021 Atlantic Hurricane season.

“The 2022 season felt much quieter than the 2021 hurricane season, especially in the early Fall, when we had fewer than average storms,” Barry said. “But it only takes one storm near you for it to be a terrible season, and for us, that was Hurricane Ian.”

A full list of named systems and their tracks can be found below:

© Provided by WFLA Tampa

Four systems made landfall in the US. Tropical Storm Colin impacted the South Carolina coastline. Major Hurricane Ian first made landfall in southwest Florida before moving on to make another landfall in South Carolina. The fourth landfall was along the east coast of Florida by Hurricane Nicole.

Early on in the season, Potential Tropical Cyclone 1 impacted Florida but it was not yet a named storm. It did eventually form into Tropical Storm Alex but not until it moved out into the Atlantic.

© Provided by WFLA Tampa

Hurricane destruction

Despite the near-average season, parts of the Sunshine State endured devastating winds and storm surge when Category 4 strength Hurricane Ian slammed into the Fort Myers area on Sept. 28.

According to the NHC, Ian intensified into a Category 4 hurricane over the Gulf of Mexico reaching maximum sustained winds of 155 mph - just 2 mph shy of a Category 5 storm.

How wobble tracker helped identify shifts in Hurricane Nicole's path

When it came ashore near Cayo Costa, it had a maximum sustained wind speed of 150 mph, tying the record for the fifth-strongest hurricane on record to strike the United States. It was also the strongest hurricane to hit Florida since Michael in 2018, the NHC added.

However, high wind speeds are not always to blame for catastrophic damage. According to the NHC, storm surges are often considered the greatest threat to life and property during hurricanes.

During Ian, some parts of southwest Florida reported storm surges in excess of 12 feet, according to a report from the New York Times. Data from the United States Geological Survey showed storm surge levels as high as 13.23 feet in Fort Myers Beach - that’s nearly the height of a one-story house or two stop signs stacked on top of each other.

© Provided by WNCT Greenville

Devastating floods washed away cars, homes, and entire neighborhoods in a matter of hours.

Before Ian made landfall, FEMA estimated losses to range between $3.5 and $5.3 billion including flood insurance claims received from five states. However, in the weeks following insurance experts told Nexstar’s NewsNation that damage was likely somewhere between $28 billion to "well over" $100 billion.

Hurricane-related deaths

As of the latest death report from the Florida Medical Examiners Commission, dated Nov. 14, 2022, there were 137 confirmed deaths attributed to Hurricane Ian. The vast majority of deaths came from Lee County, where Hurricane Ian made landfall.

Following Hurricane Nicole’s landfall near Vero Beach on Nov. 10, the Florida Medical Examiners Commission confirmed five deaths related to the storm. The commission said four of those deaths were reported in Orange County. One additional death was reported in Jacksonville.

What have we learned?

According to Colorado State University, large plumes of Saharan dust, stronger than normal upper-level winds, and cooler than normal water temperatures in the subtropical Atlantic could have contributed to a near-average season as opposed to the above-average season that was forecast.

© Provided by WFLA Tampa

Chief Meteorologist Jeff Berardelli said scientists understood just how impactful the storm would be in numbers, but even for those same meteorologists well-versed in storm damage, the reality of what those numbers would translate to on the ground was hard to visualize ahead of the storm.

Hurricane Ian deaths could have been prevented: report

According to Barry, there is even more that Storm Team 8 meteorologists could take away from this year’s erratic hurricane season.

“I think moving forward we will see a difference in how we communicate the forecast track and impacts,” Barry said. “We need better messaging on how impacts of the storm will be felt far outside of the traditional forecast cone.”

Chances of a holiday hurricane

Since 1984, there have been a total of five off-season storms that reached hurricane strength. The latest was in 2016 when Category 1 Hurricane Alex hit Bermuda in mid-January. Minimal damage was inflicted.

Tracking the Tropics: What are the chances of a holiday hurricane this season?

"It's so rare that it happens," WIAT Meteorologist Dave Nussbaum told WFLA during last week’s Tracking the Tropics episode. "Alex was an anomaly in 2016. That one did bring some issues having it come just far enough south for it to get that tropical characteristic versus a Nor'easter system out there."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) defines the hurricane off-season as taking place between Dec. 1 and May 31.

In the last six years, there have been six tropical storm formations and one subtropical storm formation in the tropics.

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"If something were to form, the more frequent cold fronts generally help to push systems away from the U.S. coast," WFLA Meteorologist Leigh Spann said.

"The good news is with storms that do form during non-peak times like December, like January, a lot of times they're fish storms," Barry added. "A lot of times they're just out over the Atlantic. A lot of times they're on the weak side as well. So if we did see any formation, we probably would not have to worry too much about it."

Tracking the Tropics streams at 2 p.m. ET every Wednesday during hurricane season. For the latest updates, check out our Tracking the Tropics website.

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