Season Approaches: U.S. Hits Record 127 Months Since Major Hurricane Strike

By Barbara Hollingsworth | May 24, 2016 | 9:25 AM EDT

Wilma, the last major hurricane to make landfall in U.S., roars into Florida on Oct. 24, 2005. (AP photo)

(CNSNews.com) – With hurricane season set to start next week, Tuesday marks a record 127 months since a major hurricane has made landfall in the continental United States, according to statistics compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Hurricane Research Division, which keeps data on all the hurricanes that have struck the U.S. since 1851.

The last major hurricane (defined as a Category 3 or above) to hit the U.S. mainland was  Hurricane Wilma, which made landfall in Florida on Oct. 24, 2005.

Although a major hurricane typically strikes the U.S. about once every two years, no major hurricanes have made landfall in the U.S. for more than 10 and a half years. 

The second longest stretch between major hurricane strikes was between the major hurricane that struck in August 1860 and the one that struck in September 1869, NOAA records show. The third longest stretch was between the major hurricane that struck in September 1900 and the one that struck in October 1906.

Wilma was one of four major hurricanes – including Hurricanes Dennis (July 10, 2005), Katrina (Aug. 29, 2005) and Rita (Sept. 24, 2005) - that came ashore in the U.S. during the 2005 hurricane season. (The season starts on June 1 and runs through November 30.)

Hurricanes Wilma, Rita and Katrina killed almost 4,000 people and caused an estimated $160 billion in damage that year, making it “one of the most active hurricane seasons in recorded history,” NOAA said in a statement marking the 10-year anniversary of the 2005 hurricane season.

Because of the massive death and destruction caused by Wilma, Rita, Katrina and Dennis, their names have been retired by the National Weather Service.

“On average, 12 tropical storms, 6 of which become hurricanes, form over the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, or Gulf of Mexico during the hurricane season,” according to NOAA.

“Over a typical 2-year period, the U.S. coastline is struck by an average of 3 hurricanes, 1 of which is classified as a major hurricane (winds of 111 mph or greater)” on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Such storms are capable of causing “devastating” or “catastrophic” damage.

The current drought in major hurricane activity is a “rare event” that occurs only once every 177 years, according to a study published last year by researchers at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) entitled The Frequency and Duration of U.S. Hurricane Droughts.

NOAA’s official “2016 hurricane season outlook will be issued on May 27th,” Dr. Gerry Bell, hurricane climate specialist at the agency’s Climate Prediction Center, told CNSNews.com.

However, there is a chance the 127-month record will be broken this year with the decline of the 2015-2016 El Nino, a warming of the ocean surface, that was one of the three strongest on record. There is a 75 percent chance of a transition to La Nina, a cooling of the ocean surface, by this fall, according to NOAA.

Dr. Philip Klotzbach, a meteorologist and hurricane specialist at the University of Colorado, tweeted that based on data going back to 1878, major hurricane activity is more likely to happen during the La Ninas that follow El Ninos.

According to The Weather Channel, last winter’s El Nino “played a significant suppressing role in the 2015 Atlantic hurricane season…. The odds may shift a bit toward a more active Atlantic hurricane season in 2016, but El Nino’s absence doesn’t guarantee that outcome.”

An analysis of five hurricane seasons following strong El Ninos found that the number of Category 3 or above hurricanes ranged from one (1973,1983) to five (1958).

In a statement on its website last year, NOAA expressed concern that the “unprecedented stretch” between major hurricanes could induce Americans living in coastal areas to suffer from “hurricane amnesia” and not be adequately prepared for the next hurricane strike.

“It only takes one storm to change your life and community,” warned a NOAA website for this month’s Hurricane Preparedness Week, which lists seven steps “to prepare for a potential landfalling tropical storm or hurricane” accompanied by storm surges and heavy rainfall.

“Storm surge is the abnormal rise of water generated by a storm’s winds. This hazard is historically the leading cause of hurricane related deaths in the United States,” according to NOAA. “Flooding from heavy rains is the second leading cause of fatalities during landfalling tropical cyclones.”

President Obama, so far, is the only president since Benjamin Harrison not to have a major hurricane make landfall in the U.S. during his term. Harrison, whose term of office did not include a major hurricane strike, served from 1889 to 1893.

(CNSNews/A.Grubbs)