‘Little wiggles matter:’ Here’s why Central Florida has gotten ‘lucky’ in recent hurricane seasons

Prepare every year as if you’re going to be hit, NHC director recommends

‘Little wiggles matter:’ Here’s why Central Florida has gotten ‘lucky’ in recent hurricane seasons
‘Little wiggles matter:’ Here’s why Central Florida has gotten ‘lucky’ in recent hurricane seasons

ORLANDO, Fla. – Andrew, Charley, Michael, Ivan: The names ring like a “who’s who” of Florida hurricane history. Because of those storms, Floridians suffered so much damage, loss and misery.

But other names, like Matthew, Floyd, Irma and Dorian, fall under the category of what could have been. Those storms missed Central Floridians and their homes by mere miles.

[READ MORE: Here’s the impact global warming has on hurricane season, according to forecasters | FEMA: Preparing early for a hurricane will leave you in a better position when storm strikes]

Last year, in the middle of a pandemic, the Atlantic produced a record number of named storms. In a season described as “relentless” by National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham, Central Florida survived without a direct strike.

News 6 chief meteorologist Tom Sorrells asked Graham what he thought about Central Florida’s run of luck and the part it has played in recent hurricane seasons.

National Hurricane Center director reflects on last season, looks ahead to 2021 forecast
National Hurricane Center director reflects on last season, looks ahead to 2021 forecast

He responded with the idea that “little wiggles matter.”

“You know, a couple of things to say there. I mean, you look at, you know, Matthew, but I also look at Dorian, too. I mean, you think about a small shift in the global pattern would have put -- that stall that was over the Bahamas could have stalled over South Florida. So you really look at, little wiggles matter. This is such a big thing that we have to get out there: little wiggles matter. You move the storm 20 miles, that could be the difference between a hurricane force and not hurricane force, or that could be the difference between a foot storm surge, or 10 to 15 feet of storm surge. Twenty miles (is) gonna do that,” Graham said.

It sounds like a cute answer, but as Graham explains, those “little wiggles” that kept Matthew and Dorian away can not be counted on every year.

‘Little wiggles matter:’ Here’s why Central Florida has gotten ‘lucky’ in recent hurricane seasons
‘Little wiggles matter:’ Here’s why Central Florida has gotten ‘lucky’ in recent hurricane seasons

In any given season, Central Florida could be right back in the setup with the Bermuda high steering more storms this way, as the region saw in 2004. He also explained that now is the time to prepare for whatever the season brings.

“So think about the 2020 season, move that global pattern, move that big, high pressure over the Atlantic much further towards the east, those storms would have recurved, not maybe in the Gulf of Mexico, but would have impacted Florida,” he said. “It doesn’t take much change to make a big difference on the ground. So think of it this way: You’ve got to prepare every single year as if you’re going to be hit because you can’t count on what happened in the past to get you through the future.”

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About the Author:

Tom Sorrells is News 6's Emmy award winning chief meteorologist. He pinpoints storms across Central Florida to keep residents safe from dangerous weather conditions.