73ºF

Tropical Tracker: Looking back at the record-breaking 2020 hurricane season

Storms can still develop in December

Satellite images of the 13 hurricanes of 2020.
Satellite images of the 13 hurricanes of 2020.

ORLANDO, Fla. – What. A. Year.

Storms can and do still form in December, especially in these hyperactive seasons, so we’ll watch for that as we close out this crazy year.

But 2020 was a year that broke multiple records. It goes down as only the second time the Greek alphabet has been needed to finish a season, surpassing the hyperactive season of 2005 in terms of named storms. A comparison of the two seasons is coming shortly.

This year will most be remembered for its record-setting U.S. landfalls and late-season surge of intense hurricanes.

Remember me?

Tropical Storm Arthur got the season off to an early start with its formation in the Caribbean on May 16. 2020 marked a record sixth consecutive year a tropical or subtropical storm formed prior to the official start of the season June 1. This was the first and certainly not the last record broken by the 2020 season.

2020 Names
2020 Names

Bertha also formed prior to the start of hurricane season.

Cristobal became the fastest “C” storm to develop on record. This started the trend of most of the following storms being the fastest to develop for their respective letter. The records for fastest developing “A”, “B” and “D” storm still reside in other years, everything else belongs to 2020.

The first 7 storms of the year were tropical storms until Hanna came along in late July. Saharan dust dominated the Atlantic helping to keep the intensity of some of these storms at bay early on. Hurricane Isaias gave Florida a close call in early August before causing damage in the Carolinas and Northeast.

Record U.S. landfalls

When you’re talking about 30 named storms, also a record, some are bound to hit land. A record twelve storms made landfall in the U.S. smashing the previous record of nine set back in 1916. Eta made two landfalls in the U.S., both in Florida, to officially give the U.S. thirteen landfalls.

12 storms made landfall in the U.S.  in 2020.
12 storms made landfall in the U.S. in 2020.

Louisiana took the brunt of the action with five landfalling systems, three of which were hurricanes. Hurricanes Laura and Delta made landfalls miles from one another just six weeks apart. This feat would remarkably be outdone by hurricanes Eta and Iota in Nicaragua. Both category four hurricanes making landfall two weeks apart as Category 4 storms.

The Cat 5 Stretch

Since 2016, there has been at least one category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic. The record of the three consecutive seasons with a category 5 had already been broken last year with four. Iota continued the record stretch to 5.

2020 vs 2005

No matter how many hurricanes develop in a season, it only takes one to be a memorable season. For Floridians, 1960, 1992, 2004 among others come to mind.

2005 held many of the records that 2020 broke in terms of fastest-developing and quantity of storms. 2005, however, still holds intensity records. 2005 gave us the names Katrina, Rita and Wilma and was the first and only other time the Greek Alphabet was used.

2020 now has more named storms than 2005, but 2005 had more intense storms.
2020 now has more named storms than 2005, but 2005 had more intense storms.

The intense storms came fast and furious in 2005 with July producing category 4 Dennis and category 5 Emily. Three more category 5 hurricanes, Katrina, Rita and Wilma formed that year. Wilma still holds the record for largest rapid intensification, 105 mph in 24 hours, and the most intense Atlantic hurricane on record in terms of pressure, 882 millibars.

Tracks and intensity of the 2005 hurricane season through the first 7 storms.
Tracks and intensity of the 2005 hurricane season through the first 7 storms.

While 2020 started off with short-lived, relatively weak and sloppy storms, the second half of the season unfortunately didn’t continue that trend. ACE or accumulated cyclone energy is a way of truly measuring a storm and season. It takes into account intensity and longevity of the storm while the storm is a tropical storm or stronger.

The 21 storms of the regular name list produced an ACE of 104.5, while the 8 Greek Alphabet storms produced an ACE of 75.3.

Greek Alphabet names
Greek Alphabet names

Those stats don’t really matter because the most important stat is the human impact. Three of these storms Isaias, Laura, and Sally caused 1 billion dollars in damage in the U.S. The numbers for hurricanes Delta and Zeta still haven’t come in yet. Eta and Iota created a back-to-back humanitarian crisis in Central America from catastrophic wind, flash flooding, and mudslides.

Florida got lucky

If I told you there would be 12 landfalls with nine of them coming ashore along the Gulf Coast would you have guessed Florida would have only been hit by one tropical storm? Now, a good deal of damage was done along the west coast of Florida with Eta’s surge, but it could have been much worse. Eta, of course, made another landfall in the Keys prior to making its final landfall in Cedar Key.

Don’t forget our close brush with Isaias that did it’s best Dorian and Matthew impressions and curved at the last minute. Dodging storms is a hard thing to do when your state sticks out!

Thanks for reading the tropical tracker and sticking with News 6 and the Pinpoint Weather Team this season! Now that the season is over the weekly Thursday updates will stop, but if there is something brewing we will of course let you know. Hopefully the next time we talk about the tropics is June 1 and things are much calmer.


About the Author: