(CNSNews.com) – As November 2016 ended, the United Sates completed a record 11 straight hurricane seasons without a major hurricane striking the U.S. mainland, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
An unprecedented 11 years, one month and seven days has passed since the last major hurricane struck the U.S. mainland, according to data going back to 1851 compiled by NOAA.
“The 2016 hurricane season will end officially on November 30. Hurricane Wilma was the last major hurricane (on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale) to strike the U.S. (October 24, 2005),” NOAA spokesman Dennis Feltgen told CNSNews.com.
Major hurricanes, defined on the scale as a Category 3 or above, are characterized by wind speeds of 111 mph or higher and strong storm surges capable of causing “devastating” or “catastrophic” damage.
“It is important to note that this scale covers only the wind impact,” Feltgen noted. “It has nothing to do with the water impact, which accounts for nearly 90 percent of the fatalities - 50 percent of which occur from storm surge and 25 percent from inland flooding.
The U.S. has now experienced more than 11 years of below-normal levels of hurricane activity since 2005, when four major hurricanes – Dennis, Katrina, Rita, and Wilma – struck the continental U.S., killing nearly 4,000 people and causing nearly $160 billion in damages.
Last month, Hurricane Matthew - the first Category 5 hurricane to form in the Atlantic since 2007 – was downgraded to a Category 1 by the time it made landfall in the U.S. on October 8th, two weeks short of the 11-year anniversary of Hurricane Wilma’s landfall.
About 97 percent of all Atlantic basin hurricanes form during hurricane season, which lasts from June 1st to November 30th. Peak hurricane activity typically occurs between mid-August and late October.
Of the total 991 hurricanes recorded between 1851 and 2015, only 12 have been off-season hurricanes that formed between December and May, according to NOAA. Of those, none made landfall in the continental U.S.
CNSNews asked Dr. Gerry Bell, a hurricane specialist and research meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center, if NOAA had an explanation for the record-breaking major hurricane hiatus in the U.S.
“I see two main reasons for the recent lack of major hurricane landfalls,” Bell replied.
“1) For the U.S. East Coast, the overall wind patterns have been steering more hurricanes out to sea before reaching land; and
2) For the U.S. Gulf Coast, exceptionally unfavorable atmospheric conditions such as strong vertical wind shear and sinking motion have been preventing hurricanes from forming and strengthening over the Caribbean Sea, and have also been preventing hurricanes from moving across the Caribbean Sea.
“As a result, there has been a sharp reduction in the number of hurricanes that would typically migrate into the Gulf of Mexico, which then reduces the likelihood of a land-falling major hurricane along the Gulf Coast,” Bell explained.
“A unique aspect of the current U.S. major hurricane landfall drought is its duration, due to the simultaneous lack of landfalls along both the Atlantic and the Gulf Coasts,” he pointed out.
The historical record shows that the duration of the current major hurricane drought is “unprecedented,” Bell continued.
“The periods with no major hurricane landfalls varies widely between the Gulf Coast and the Atlantic Coast,” he added.
“The Atlantic Coast had a 19-year gap [between] 1966-1984 and an 18-year gap [between]1910-1927. The gaps are much shorter for the Gulf Coast, whose previous longest gap was 6 years (1951-1956 and 1986-1991).
“In contrast, many seasons during both 1966-1984 and 1910-1927 featured major hurricane landfalls along the Gulf Coast while the Atlantic Coast had none. The Gulf Coast saw 7 seasons with major hurricane landfalls during 1910-1927, and 8 seasons with major hurricane landfalls during 1966-1984,” he added.
“Therefore, it appears that the duration of the current meteorological conditions, which have simultaneously suppressed major hurricane landfalls along both the U.S. East Coast and Gulf Coast, is unprecedented in the historical record dating back to 1900,” he told CNSNews.
“However, please note that the historical record deteriorates in the early 1900’s and earlier due to a combination of 1) lack of satellites, and 2) low population densities along both the Gulf Coast and portions of the Atlantic Coast (especially the southeast).”
Bell also pointed out that Category 1 or 2 hurricanes such as Matthew or Sandy can still cause enormous property damage and loss of life.
“I think it is a bit misleading to focus only on major hurricane landfalls, since there have certainly been numerous tropical storm and hurricane landfalls during the past decade that have caused significant damage, flooding, loss of life, hardship, etc.” he told CNSNews.
(This story has been updated.)