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‘Average’ hurricane season brought death, mayhem to Florida

Orlando Sentinel 12/1/2022 Kevin Spear, Orlando Sentinel
Aerial images of the aftermath of Hurricane Ian in Central Florida, on Friday, Sept. 30, 2022. © Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel/TNS Aerial images of the aftermath of Hurricane Ian in Central Florida, on Friday, Sept. 30, 2022.

ORLANDO, Fla. — This year’s hurricane season ended Wednesday, the last day of November, with a portfolio of nearly normal storm activity during the past six months — except for the havoc on lives and property in Florida.

Of 14 named storms that rode the Atlantic basin in 2022, Florida was unbothered by all but two, hurricanes Ian and Nicole. With very different qualities, they sliced a neat X across the state’s peninsula with paths that met just southeast of Orlando.

Armed with Category 4 winds of 150 mph, Ian tore into the north Fort Myers area as a slow, powerful and wet hurricane on Sept. 28, romping northeast to exit to the Atlantic near Cocoa Beach.

Nicole arrived at the Treasure Coast 43 days later on Nov. 10 as weather was cooling and popular wisdom held that hurricanes were no longer a bother for the year. The Category 1 storm traveled quickly toward Cedar Key and passed into Georgia north of Tallahassee.

A boy runs past a collapsed pool deck Monday, Oct. 3, 2022, in Daytona Beach Shores, Florida, as hotel and condo seawalls and decks along the Volusia County coastline were gutted by Hurricane Ian. © Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS A boy runs past a collapsed pool deck Monday, Oct. 3, 2022, in Daytona Beach Shores, Florida, as hotel and condo seawalls and decks along the Volusia County coastline were gutted by Hurricane Ian.

“For all intents and purposes, the 2022 hurricane season will be looked back on as average from a climatological perspective,” said Will Ulrich, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Central Florida.

“But if you were to say that to someone living in Florida, they would say it was anything but average.”

With the hurricane season starting June 1, Florida immediately got a dose of storm jitters from a tropical depression that shoved off from Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula aiming for Fort Myers.

The system traversed the state to the Atlantic coast and gathered into Tropical Storm Alex when far offshore and moving farther away.

In July and lasting just two days, Tropical Storm Colin sloshed South Carolina’s Atlantic coastal region. After that, the 2022 hurricane season went crickets.

“This unique season was defined by a rare mid-season pause in storms that scientists preliminarily believe was caused by increased wind shear and suppressed atmospheric moisture high over the Atlantic Ocean,” the National Hurricane Center explained. “After a quiet period in August, activity ramped up in September.”

In early September, hurricanes Danielle and Earl were threats mainly to shipping well out in the Atlantic.

Through the middle of September, Hurricane Fiona made landfall as a Category 1 storm near Punta Tocon, Puerto Rico.

Fiona turned north and powered into a Category 4, continuing as a destructive system that hit Nova Scotia, Canada and did not dissipate until west of Greenland near the Arctic Circle.

Neither Ian nor Nicole was a classic Cape Verde Islands hurricane, generated from a tropical wave exiting the west coast of Africa and gaining power crossing the Atlantic, as the infamous Ivan and Irma did, before hitting Florida.

Ian and Nicole were jump-started by warm waters of the Caribbean Sea between the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.

Ian curved west and then north, becoming a major hurricane just before crossing the western tip of Cuba to turn slightly east on its way to Florida and the record books by tying for fifth among the most powerful hurricanes to strike the U.S.

Early forecasts described Ian as the long-feared storm that would devastate the Tampa Bay area. But the predicted path edged south toward Charlotte Harbor.

The National Hurricane Center warned that Ian would make landfall as a “catastrophic hurricane” and ultimately deliver as much as 18 inches of rain nearly 150 miles away in the Orlando area.

The storm hit the Cayo Costa barrier island west of Cape Coral at 3 p.m.

Hurricane expert Jeff Masters, writing for Yale Climate Connections, noted that Tampa Bay went from a predicted 5 to 10 feet of storm surge to experiencing more than 4 feet of water draining from the bay when Ian made landfall.

Ian killed scores of people in Lee County, adding to Florida’s death toll of nearly 150 and making it the nation’s deadliest hurricane since Katrina in 2025 that saw 1,800 fatalities.

Nearly 12 hours after landfall, Ian crossed south of Orlando, leaving rivers and lakes swollen with floodwaters.

“River levels experienced during and after Hurricane Ian surpassed those of previous river flooding events, in some cases cresting two feet above the prior flood of record,” the National Weather Service reported. “Unfortunately for many along the banks of these waterways, this meant damage to and inundation of homes, docks, boathouses and more.”

Ian made September Orlando’s wettest month ever, according to records going back to the late 1800s. The 22.4 inches of rain for the month easily topped the previously wettest month of 19.6 inches.

Hurricane Nicole took a more adventurous route to Florida, heading east for a big S track, grazing Puerto Rico, becoming a tropical storm and then a hurricane east of the state, and navigating the state at a brisk pace.

Nicole’s winds and rains were not nearly as fearsome as those of Ian. But the hurricane’s Atlantic Ocean storm surge arrived on top of unusually high tides and wrecked dozens of coastal homes, apartment buildings and motels in Volusia and Brevard counties.

With the hurricane season at an end, odds are slim that the next names in the queue for storms will be needed: Owen, Paula, Richard, Shary, Tobias, Virginie and Walter.

The year’s season produced 14 named storms. Of those, eight grew into hurricanes, and of those, two were major hurricanes.

The average is 14 named storms, seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes.

“This was an average season when you look at it from a purely numbers perspective,” said Ulrich of the weather service.

©2022 Orlando Sentinel. Visit orlandosentinel.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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