Source: Weather Underground. Image courtesy the Fort Myers News-Press
(News-Press) -- Depending on how you look at it, the 2012 hurricane season is either a dark harbinger of things to come or simply a continuation of the active tropical cyclone cycle that dates back almost 20 years.
With 19 named storms, the 2012 season, which ends Friday, ties 2011, 2010, 1995 and 1887 as the third most-active season on record - 10 storms this season became hurricanes, and one became a major hurricane. The average is 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes.
"When you look at the statistics, with records going back to 1851, having three of the top five active seasons in the past three years is extremely unlikely to happen by chance," said Jeff Masters, chief meteorologist for Weather Underground. "The odds are that the climate has changed in the Atlantic to make it happen."
In other words, tropical cyclones (tropical depressions, tropical storms and hurricanes) feed on warm sea surface temperatures, and as the warming climate warms the tropical Atlantic, the number of tropical cyclones will increase.
Another fact about this hurricane season is that two storms formed in May and five formed after October 1.
"The Atlantic hurricane season is getting longer," Masters said. "It's starting earlier and lasting longer.
"On the flip side, we only had one major hurricane. That's the lowest ratio of majors to storms - 19 to one. And the majors that are forming, are missing us."
The last major hurricane to make landfall in the U.S. was Category 3 Wilma, which came ashore Oct. 24, 2005 near Naples.
Four named storms made U.S. landfall this season:
- Tropical Storm Beryl came ashore May 28 near Jacksonville and did minimal damage.
- Tropical Storm Debby made landfall June 26 at Steinhatchee, causing $300 million in damages.
- Hurricane Isaac made landfall Aug. 28 in Louisiana and caused $1.5 billion in damages.
- Hurricane Sandy made landfall Oct. 29 in New Jersey and caused $50 billion in damages.
Dennis Feltgen, spokesman for the National Hurricane Center, said the above-average hurricane season is not the result of climate change.
"This season was busy but not exceptional," he said. "It's not a record-breaker, thank goodness. We remain in an active hurricane cycle that began in 1995. Those can go for 20, 30 even 40 years."
A better way to judge a hurricane season than counting number of storms, Feltgen said, is by its Accumulative Cyclone Energy, or ACE, Index, which is a measure of how many storms formed, how powerful they became and how long they lasted.
This year, the ACE was 142 percent of the average, which makes the 2012 hurricane season the 11th busiest since 1980.
For comparison, the highest recorded ACE was 278 percent of the average during the 1933 hurricane season, which produced 21 named storms, 10 hurricanes and five major hurricanes.
The second-highest ACE was 269 percent in 2005 (28 storms, 15 hurricanes, seven major hurricanes).
On a final note about the 2012 hurricane season, Feltgen pointed out this was the seventh consecutive year no hurricanes made landfall in Florida.
"My goal," he said, "is let's make it eight."