After a seven year period of record activity in the Tropical Atlantic, things turned even more unusual as hurricane activity skyrocketed over the last two months of the season, and that resulted, in the seventh above average season over the last eight years.
Dr. William Gray, the pre-eminent hurricane forecaster in the United States, issued an accurate hurricane season forecast for the third consecutive year, and also warned that this recent trend is a sign of increased activity and devastation along the United States Coastline from powerful hurricanes for decades to come. Coastal populations should take note of this since it is not a matter of if, but a matter of when.
For the third straight year, Dr. Gray and his forecast team at Colorado State issued a seasonal hurricane forecast that was very close to the actual numbers. This included a nearly accurate projection of 3 major hurricanes of Category Three strength or better on the Saffir-Simpson Scale.
A major hurricane is a hurricane with winds of 115 mph or greater. During the 2001 Atlantic Hurricane Season, there were a total of four major hurricanes including: Erin, Felix, Iris, and Michelle Dr. Gray had raised his expectations for the 2000 Hurricane Season during the first week of the season as he felt that conditions were more conducive to development in the Atlantic.
He had initially predicted 10 named storms, 6 hurricanes, and 2 major hurricanes in December, 2000, but as the season drew closer, Gray saw that conditions were too vague to actually issue that kind of forecast. Then indications became more favorable during the months of April, May, and early June, and that made Gray raise his numbers again to 12 named storms, 7 hurricanes, and 3 major hurricanes. Well, the final tally even exceeded those cautious early season expectations
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The Atlantic has been a late bloomer over the past four seasons including this one with each of these seasons not really getting cranked up until the middle of August at the earliest, or as late as after Labor Day like this year. The first hurricane of the season did not form until September 8th, 2001 when Hurricane Erin developed in the Western Atlantic.
However, like the previous three seasons, there was a strong finish that included powerful storms during the usually quiet months of October and November. During these two months, there was a total of four hurricanes and two major hurricanes, and that made 2001 the most active period for October and November in the past 50 years.
This period also saw two hurricanes at the same time during the month of November for the first time since 1932. Gray attributed the slow start to the 2001 Atlantic Hurricane Season to subsidence in the Western Atlantic along with high surface pressures throughout the Atlantic Basin during August. These conditions had existed in both 1998 and 1999 when these seasons didn't have their second storm until the middle of August.
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With the development of four major hurricanes during the 2001 Atlantic Hurricane Season, Dr. Gray and his forecast team are even more convinced that not only has the Atlantic Basin entered an era of increased hurricane activity, but it will also see an increase in landfalling major hurricanes with catastrophic results.
Gray indicates that the East Coast of the United States has been protected by an upper level trough of low pressure that has persisted offshore during much of this seven year period of increased activity. During this time the United States coastline has only seen landfalls from three major hurricanes: Opal (1995), Bret (1999), and Fran (1996). Keep in mind that Bret made landfall in a very sparsely populated area in Southern Texas.
This particular trough has forced many of the westward bound hurricanes in the Western Atlantic to curve out to sea. However, Gray and his team believe that this will change over time, and the East Coast will not be as lucky the next time a major hurricane comes around.
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