NOAA Says It’s a Record: No Major Hurricane Has Struck U.S. Mainland in 10 Years

By Kathleen Brown | June 26, 2015 | 10:45 AM EDT

Huge waves from Hurricane Wilma, the last Category 3 hurricane to hit the mainland United States, slam Miami in 2005. (AP/Miami Herald)i

(CNSNews.com) --No “major” hurricane--defined as a Category 3 or above--has made landfall on the continental United States since 2005, according to records compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Hurricane Research Division.

That is the longest stretch of time the United States has gone without a Category 3 or above hurricane striking somewhere on the mainland of the country, according to NOAA hurricane records going back to 1851.

“It’s easily the record -- with all the necessary caveats,” the National Hurricane Center’s Eric Blake told CNSNews.com.

Blake, a specialist with the center, is the co-author of The Deadliest, Costliest, and Most Intense United States Tropical Cyclones from 1851 to 2010.

Blake said that the ability to measure hurricanes is better now than it was in the past.

Prior to the current pause in major hurricanes striking the U.S. mainland, the longest pause had been the eight years between 1860 and 1869—146 years ago. NOAA has published its calculation of the categories of all hurricanes striking the U.S. going back to 1851.

In the 164 years for which hurricane data has been collected, 72 have had at least one major hurricane. There have also been two periods of five-straight years (1915 throuhg 1919 and 1932 through 1936) where at least one major hurricane has struck they U.S. mainland each year. (See chart below.)

The U.S. Census Bureau noted the fact that it has now been ten years since the last major hurricane struck the U.S. mainland in information it published this month to mark the beginning of hurricane season, which runs from June 1 through November 30.

The last major hurricane to strike the U.S. “was Hurricane Wilma in October 2005 over Southwest Florida,” the Census Bureau said.

In 2005, according to NOAA, a greater number of major hurricanes struck the U.S. mainland than any year on record. That year, four Category 3 storms hit the U.S.: Dennis, Katrina, Rita, and Wilma.

Sometimes major hurricanes--such as Ike in 2008--are Category 3 or higher before they strike the U.S. mainland, but then they diminish to a lower category of storm before they do strike.

The Saffir-Simpson Scale rates hurricanes according to their sustained wind speed and potential for damage. Category 1 storms produce wind speeds between 74-95 mph. Category 2 winds are between 96-110 mph.

While Category 1 and 2 storms are still considered dangerous, Category 3, 4, and 5 hurricanes are considered “major” because their sustained wind speeds of 111-129 mph, 130-156 mph, and more than 157 mph respectively can produce catastrophic damage.

In describing Category 2 storms, with sustained winds of 96-110 miles per hour, NOAA says: “Well-constructed frame homes could sustain major roof and siding damage. Many shallowly rooted trees will be snapped or uprooted and block numerous roads. Near-total power loss is expected with outages that could last from several days to weeks.”

In describing Category 3 storms, with sustained winds of 111 to 129 miles per hour, NOAA says: “Well-built framed homes may incur major damage or removal of roof decking and gable ends. Many trees will be snapped or uprooted, blocking numerous roads. Electricity and water will be unavailable for several days to weeks after the storm passes.”

The National Hurricane Centers’ Eric Blake told CNSNews.com that the criteria for hurricane categorization has been altered over the years.

According to Blake's report, “category assignment is based on wind speed from 1851-1930 and 1990-2010 and on a combination of wind, pressure and storm surge from 1931-1989.” The Saffir-Simpson Scale was developed in 1969, and hurricanes prior to that were assigned categories retroactively, using the available data.

"Small differences today that we could detect, you couldn’t detect a long time ago,” Blake told CNSNews.com. “Given that we just see things a little better, we‘ve got more data and better satellite data, we can give a little better estimate than we could a generation ago.

“But nonetheless, it is a record,” Blake said of the 10-year pause in major hurricanes striking the U.S. mainland. “It’s easily the record--with all the necessary caveats.”

When asked to comment on the current record pause in major hurricane activity, Blake told CNSNews.com: “I like to think of it as Mother Nature giving us a little bit of a break after giving us a beating in 2004 and 2005. That’s my best guess, but I don’t know.”

The pause is “an unlikely event, so ascribing the significance of it is a challenge,” he said.


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