But even though carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions continue to rise, hurricane activity in the U.S. remains at an historic low, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Hurricane Research Division, which maintains a list of all major hurricanes that have made landfall since 1851.
“The changes we’re seeing in our climate means that, unfortunately, storms like Sandy could end up being more common and more devastating,” Obama said at the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in Washington.
“And that’s why we’re also going to be doing more to deal with the dangers of carbon pollution that help to cause this climate change and global warming,” the president added.
But after peaking during the 1950s, the number of hurricanes battering the U.S. mainland has dropped precipitously. It’s been nine years since Wilma, the last major hurricane to make landfall in the U.S., struck South Florida, killing 25 people.
And according to NOAA, “the outlook calls for a 50 percent chance of a below-normal season, a 40 percent chance of a near-normal season, and only a 10 percent chance of an above-normal season.”
Colorado State University climatologists Philip Klotzbach and William Gray also predicted “a below-average Atlantic hurricane season," which began June 1.
They calculated that there is only a 38 percent chance that at least one major hurricane (Category 3-4-5) will strike the U.S. coast this year, compared to the 52 percent average probability throughout the 20th century.
“Conditions in the tropical Atlantic are quite unfavorable at the present time…The Main Development Region (10-20°N, 60-20°W) (MDR) is approximately 0.5°C cooler than normal. SSTs [Sea Surface Temperatures] in the MDR are the coldest that they have been during July since 2002 (another relatively quiet Atlantic hurricane season),” they noted.
Since 1851, three catastrophic Category 5 hurricanes – defined as having a maximum sustained wind speed of over 157 miles per hour – have made landfall in the U.S.: the 1935 Labor Day hurricane in the Florida Keys, Camille in 1969, and Andrew in 1992.
However, the Category 4 hurricane that hit Galveston, Texas in 1900 was by far the deadliest, with at least 8,000 – and possibly as many as 12,000 people– killed when a 15-foot storm surge inundated the low-lying city. It remains the worst weather-related disaster in U.S. history.