The 2002 Atlantic Hurricane Season was not as active as recent years, but still had a good deal of storms, and many of those made landfall over some point on the United States coastline. Looking at the numbers from 2002, there were 12 named storms, only 4 hurricanes, and 2 major hurricanes.
In terms of just the number of named storms, the Atlantic had an above average year, but when it came to hurricanes and major hurricanes, the Atlantic was below average. The four hurricanes in 2002 fell slightly below the average number of hurricanes in a season, which is five while the number of major hurricanes was also slightly lower than the average of 2.3 per season.
There were a total of eight storms that made landfall over some part of the United States in 2002 including two making landfall in a matter of weeks over Louisiana, which missed getting hit hard by two major hurricanes. Lili, which weakened just before landfall, was only a Category Two as it came in while Isidore weakened to a tropical storm.
Finally, after Lili made landfall over Louisiana, the Atlantic Hurricane Season ended quietly as a mild El Nino episode developed in the Pacific, which hindered any chances for development over the last seven weeks or so of the season.
2002 was not as active as recent hurricane seasons have been. The 2002 Atlantic Hurricane Season was dominated mostly by a large number of named storms. As mentioned earlier in this article, there were a total of 12 named storms during the year, which was above the average of 10 named storms per year.
However, the presence and slight strengthening of an El Nino episode in the Eastern and Central Pacific made conditions quite hostile for development, especially in the latter portion of the season. There were only four hurricanes throughout the season including Hurricane Gustav, Hurricane Isidore, Hurricane Kyle, and Hurricane Lili.
Of those four hurricanes, only Isidore and Lili were able to reach major hurricane status as both storms reached strong Category Three and Four strengths before weakening and making landfall in Louisiana. These numbers of hurricanes and major hurricanes were only slightly below the normal averages of 5 and 2.3 respectively.
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Nowhere did hurricanes and tropical storms make their mark like they did in Louisiana in 2002. The area, particularly the city of New Orleans is one of the most vulnerable cities along the United States coastline since it sits only a few feet above sea level. Meanwhile, New Orleans is surrounded by water on three sides: the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi River, and Lake Pontchatrain.
The last time New Orleans was hit by a major hurricane was in 1965 when Hurricane Betsy, a Category Three Hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Scale, brought high winds and flooding rains to the area. Since then, the city has dodged a couple of close calls with Andrew in 1992, and Georges in 1998.
In 2002, New Orleans would dodge two more bullets as Isidore and Lili both gave residents there quite a scare. First, Isidore made landfall in September with strong tropical storm force winds, but that was a far cry from the Category Three Hurricane strength the storm had prior to landfall over the Yucatan. Within about a week or so, Lili came a calling with Category Four Hurricane winds.
Lili was looking more and more like the worst case scenario that emergency planners in the New Orleans region had feared for many years. However, upper level conditions became quite hostile towards intensification, and even maintaining strength, and Lili weakened to just under Category Three status. New Orleans was lucky this time, but how long will the luck last?
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After the seemingly one-two punch by Isidore and Lili, things quieted down for the rest of the season. There was a depression that formed toward the end of October, and for a while it looked like it would become Marco, but it didn't. The reason for that was that the upper level conditions, which hampered Lili prior to landfall over Louisiana, had pervaded much of the Atlantic.
This was because of the fact that an El Nino had developed as forecasted in the Eastern and Central Pacific, and was even stronger than anticipated. El Nino conditions in the Pacific often mean unfavorable conditions for development in the Atlantic. That is because when an El Nino develops, it causes a significant change in the upper level wind patterns by making them stronger from west to east.
Hurricanes need light winds aloft in order to develop since they are "vertically stacked" weather systems. Vertically stacked means that as a hurricane develops, its thunderstorm clouds build upward in a vertical direction creating high cloud tops of about 60,000 feet. The El Nino didn't subside until April, 2003, which was just in time for Tropical Storm Ana to develop, and the upcoming 2003 Atlantic Hurricane Season.
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