Costliest, deadliest hurricane season in years ends today

Hurricane Otto at peak intensity and immediately before making landfall over the southeast coast of Nicaragua on Nov. 24, 2016. (Courtesy/NASA)
Hurricane Otto at peak intensity and immediately before making landfall over the southeast coast of Nicaragua on Nov. 24, 2016. (Courtesy/NASA)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Atlantic hurricane season ends Wednesday after its usual six-month span. This year only had a slightly above-average number of storms, but it was the costliest year since 2012 and the deadliest in over a decade, since 2005.

Hurricane Matthew was the headliner of this year’s season, and is largely responsible for the high death and cost totals, creating over $10 billion in damage. Matthew was the strongest and longest-lived storm this year. It hit maximum sustained winds at 160 mph, making it the first category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic since Felix in 2007. The minimum criteria for a category 5 storm is 157 mph.

The death toll from Matthew was extensive, affecting half a dozen countries. Forty-nine people died in the U.S., with more than 1,500 other deaths in Haiti, Colombia, Cuba and the Dominican Republic combined.

Hurricane Matthew spun for more than a week as a hurricane, from Sept. 29 to Oct. 8, before making landfall near McClellanville, South Carolina.

Interestingly, Matthew weakened before landfall, and struck as a category 1. That means this year will be the 11th Atlantic hurricane season in a row without a major landfalling hurricane in the U.S. Major hurricanes are category 3, 4 or 5 with at least maximum sustained wind speed of 111 mph. Five named storms in total hit the U.S. this year below that mark.

The Atlantic basin hurricane season typically runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, but this year was also particular in that two storms — one a hurricane — developed well outside of that usual time.

Hurricane Matthew flooded these homes in Cumberland County, North Carolina. Austin man Craig Williams' brother was trapped in the house on the far right. (Courtesy: @ImSoFIRST via Twitter)
Hurricane Matthew flooded these homes in Cumberland County, North Carolina. Austin man Craig Williams’ brother was trapped in the house on the far right. (Courtesy: @ImSoFIRST via Twitter)

Hurricane Alex kicked off the year by becoming the first hurricane to form in January since 1938. Bonnie was next, becoming a tropical storm on May 28 that brought heavy rain to South Carolina.

Many predictions were right on track with a normal to slightly above-normal number for the rest of the season. We ended up with 15 named storms, seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes.

The Tropical Meteorology Project came very close to that reality, predicting 15 named storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes on July 1. On the first day of the season, the National Hurricane Center also had a close forecast at 16 named storms, eight hurricanes and four major hurricanes at most.

This year’s season ended with Hurricane Otto, which is another storm for the record books. Otto was the latest Atlantic hurricane on record to make landfall. It is also the first storm in 20 years to survive crossing over from the Atlantic to the Pacific, since Hurricane Cesar-Douglas in 1996. It hit Nicaragua as a category 2 storm on Nov. 24.

The U.S. has never had an 11-year period without a major hurricane landfall since official records began in 1851. The previous record was eight years, from 1861-1868.

2017 Atlantic hurricane season outlook

The year 2017’s Atlantic basin hurricane season will largely depend on the La Niña that officially developed on Nov. 10. La Niña patterns usually make the Atlantic more active, but this La Niña is weak and could potentially dissipate by February or March.

If that’s the case, we’d likely go back to neutral conditions by next summer, which could mean another near-normal hurricane season.

The first named storms of 2017 will be Arlene, Bret and Cindy.

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