Strong wind shear from seasonal frontal activity and the northern hemisphere winter shift in the jet stream across cooled water have finally seen off the record-breaking 2020 storm season, a full month later than usual. I have a sailor’s natural aversion to standing down prematurely, but once the last of the reliable commentators had packed their grips and headed down the gangway, I felt reasonably safe ringing down Finished With Engines last week and can now reflect on what has been an extraordinary season-long voyage in an extraordinary year.

Increasing uncertainty based on freak weather becoming less freak and more mainstream had the modellers all over the place for this year’s forecast. I always like to look at the much-respected Colorado State University pre-season for sound reasoning. They had predicted 16 named storms, 8 hurricanes and 4 major hurricanes. I did not concur fully with some moderating aspects of their views and expected a slightly more aggressive season, making a reluctant stab at 17 named storms, 9 hurricanes and 5 major hurricanes, hoping as ever that this would prove to be a wild overestimation.  I have looked back at others’ seasonal forecasts. Nobody was anywhere near the final 30 named storms, 13 hurricanes and 6 major hurricanes.  Questions are being asked why the modellers were so far out with their figures this year  and for some, credibility is at stake.  The theories are numerous. I’ll throw my personal view in for what it’s worth. Warmer water. Sceptics look away now. Global warming cannot be dismissed. I should add here that any opinions expressed in this summary are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Munich Re Syndicate.

The financial cost of the most active season on record will be widely reported and I use this annual summary for a moment’s reflection on human cost at the close of the season. We are again reminded of own human frailty in the face of natural catastrophe, as if we need reminding this year.

2020. The Butcher’s Bill.

Continuing our modest claim to be first in and last out every season, we picked up a closing pressure gradient in the central Caribbean on May 12th which the sharp-eyed professional agencies were on to by the 14th as it emerged from Cuba and became ARTHUR on 16th. Passing 20 miles off the Outer Banks, ARTHUR produced a single report of sustained tropical storm force winds at Alligator River Bridge, North Carolina before dissipating near Bermuda the following day. As if to announce that this was to be a record-breaking season, ARTHUR set the record for the sixth consecutive season with a tropical or subtropical cyclone before the official June 1st start date.

A low pressure area which crossed Florida from the south-eastern Gulf of Mexico into the western Atlantic developed off the coast of South Carolina to become Tropical Storm BERTHA. This was short-lived and moved ashore over the Isle of Palms on 28th May and quickly dissipated. BERTHA proved to be a significant rainmaker across South Florida with flash flooding in South Carolina. One swimmer drowned in rip currents at Myrtle Beach.

On 31st May, Pacific tropical storm AMANDA jumped the fence into the Bay of Campeche and began to reorganise. On June 1st, this became Tropical Storm CRISTOBAL producing heavy rain across the Yucatan peninsular making a landfall as a strong tropical storm just west of Ciudad del Carmen on 3rd June at peak intensity of 60 knots. Wave heights of up to 10 feet closed ports for several days whilst in El Salvador, a mudslide caused by torrential rainfall killed seven. On 5th June, seaborne again in the Gulf of Mexico, CRISTOBAL began weakening before making landfall with very heavy rainfall and localised flooding over south-eastern Louisiana, dissipating quickly as it moved inland.

Short-lived fish storm DOLLY first piped up as a low level disturbance on 19th June off the south-eastern seaboard and tracked north-east, well clear of the coast. On 23rd June, this became Tropical Storm DOLLY some 400 miles south-east of Newfoundland, hitting cold water almost immediately and was off radar on the same day.

A low pressure cell which had begun life over the northern Tennessee Valley emerged off the coast of Georgia on 4th July and began developing as it headed seaward. The system gradually drifted north-nor’east towards Bermuda becoming Tropical Storm EDOUARD on July 6th. As it passed the island, tropical storm-force wind gusts and heavy rain reached the coast. The remnants of EDOUARD proved surprisingly resolute bringing heavy rain to the Irish Republic, the United Kingdom and onwards as far as north-west Poland.

On 6th July, another low pressure area emerged off the coast of Georgia and began to develop as it crossed the Gulf Stream. This loafed around for a few days before becoming Tropical Storm FAY on 9th July just 40 miles east-nor’east of Cape Hatteras. Rainmaker FAY intensified as it moved due north reaching peak intensity with 60 knots winds and heavy rain at landfall close to Atlantic City. Tropical storm warnings were issued for the coasts of New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and into Maine as the system moved slowly north. Six lives were lost due to rip currents and storm surge associated with the storm. It is interesting to note that this season, there had at various times been tropical storm warnings along the entire eastern coastline of the United States from Maine to Mexico.

Our charmed existence continued when a rapidly developing low showed up in the convergence zone on July 20th, headed west but with poor prospects. By 22nd July, this had become Tropical Storm GONZALO which took a sizeable swig of dry Saharan air keeping a lid on development, This made landfall on Trinidad as a weak tropical storm, bringing squally weather to Trinidad and Tobago and parts of southern Grenada and northern Venezuela on July 25th. The worst excesses of GONZALO were reported from Tobago where a tree fell on building in Les Coteaux and damaged a bus stop roof in Argyle.

We picked up a disturbance on 19th July in the north-east Caribbean over warm water with signs of rising air. Early on, in Pensacola, Florida, a police deputy was tragically lost in rip currents while trying to save his 10-year-old son. This disturbance tracked slowly across the Gulf of Mexico and formed Tropical Storm HANNA on July 24th as it made a beeline for Corpus Christi. As it tracked west, heavy rainfall impacted coastal Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida Panhandle, threatening street flooding in New Orleans. Over the next 24 hours, this underwent rapid intensification and 24 hours later intensified into the first hurricane of the season.  HANNA continued to strengthen reaching peak intensity with 90 knot winds on 25th July just before landfall at Padre Island, Texas with storm surge flooding, destructive winds, torrential rain, flash flooding and isolated tornadoes across South Texas and north-eastern Mexico with four fatalities.

A wave left the African coast on 23rd July which began developing as it travelled west. By the time this reached the Caribbean, it had formed Tropical Storm ISAIAS and made a first landfall in the Dominican Republic where two men were killed, and a woman was lost in Puerto Rico after being swept away in flood waters. Seaborne again, the cyclone became Hurricane ISAIAS, pushing on to a second landfall on North Andros Island, Bahamas with winds around 80 knots, weakening briefly. ISAIAS then turned north-nor’west paralleling the east coast of Florida and Georgia, regaining hurricane intensity to make a landfall on August 4th over Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina, with sustained winds of 85 knots. ISAIAS then passed over the eastern seaboard  at tropical storm strength before transitioning into an extratropical cyclone near the US-Canadian border, weakening over Quebec.  In the United States, ISAIAS triggered a tornado outbreak causing a total of 39 tornadoes with ten fatalities along the route.

On 7th August a tropical wave developed over the eastern tropical Atlantic, gradually developing as it headed west. By 13th August, this became Tropical Storm JOSEPHINE but began wobbling almost immediately. By the time this reached the Leeward Islands, it had weakened and dissipated quickly.

KYLE developed from a low pressure patch which emerged from North Carolina heading seaward. This reached tropical storm intensity on 14th August as it moved over warn water. This didn’t last long and had limited impact but retained shape as it followed the Gulf Stream  and was later absorbed by (European) Storm ELLEN bringing hurricane-strength winds to the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom.

A large tropical wave emerged off the West African coast on 16th August with an early twinkle in its eye. This battled through the wide swathe of dry Saharan air which dominated the convergence zone for much of the season, deepening as it approached the Windward Islands, becoming Tropical Storm LAURA. Still ragged at the edges, it moved over the northern Leeward islands, then strengthened as it approached Puerto Rico bringing heavy rain to Guadeloupe and Dominica, causing the closure of every port in the British Virgin Islands. Early on 23rd August LAURA made a first relatively weak landfall near San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic where four deaths were recorded, with a further thirty-one in Haiti. Once into the Gulf of Mexico, LAURA took to warm water and rising air like a dog attacking a bag of chips, intensifying with frightening speed to category one hurricane on 25th August and reached category four within 48 hours. At this peak intensity, winds speeds of 140 knots were reported, just hours before making landfall near Cameron, Louisiana, making this the strongest Louisiana landfall since 1856. LAURA steadily weakened after moving inland until dissipating over Arkansas on 28th August. A further forty-two lives were lost in the United States, attributed to this powerful and destructive storm.

The first spark of MARCO appeared in the mid-Atlantic on 16th August, struggling against dry air and facing upper level shear ahead. Nonetheless, the disturbance survived the crossing and began to develop once it reached the central Caribbean. This reached tropical storm strength as it neared Honduras on 22nd August and was upgraded to a category one hurricane the following day as it turned to transit the Yucatan Channel and enter the Gulf Of Mexico. Despite weakening almost immediately it hit hurricane intensity, one person was killed in east central Mexico. On 25th August, MARCO having rapidly lost intensity, made a landfall near the Mississippi delta as a weak tropical storm with winds of just 35 knots

On 27th August, a westbound wave began to show some enthusiasm as it followed the well-beaten track across the convergence zone. This was to maintain an almost straight line from the African coast to Belize. It was only when well inside the Caribbean that this developed and became Tropical Storm NANA as it passed south of Jamaica. NANA flagged as it encountered upper level shear but bounced back shortly before landfall in Belize on 3rd September as category one hurricane with winds gusting 70 knots. Despite street flooding in the Bay Islands of Honduras and a large area of banana and plantation crops destroyed in Belize, the cyclone lived up to the romantic ideal that nothing called NANA could really hurt anyone.

During the last few days of August, an eastbound low pressure area formed off the coast of North Carolina. This struggled to develop but eventually upgraded to Tropical Storm OMAR. Debilitating wind shear, reported to be up to 50 knots, took the shine off this as it passed some 250 miles north of Bermuda and by 5th September, was no longer identifiable. Remnants of OMAR eventually reached Scotland with some gusty winds and heavy rain on 9th September, sometimes referred to locally as ‘summer’.

We spotted the wave which would become PAULETTE on 30th August just before it slipped the African coast. The professional agencies were quick off the mark and identified it four short days later to the west of the Cape Verde Islands. This became tropical storm PAULETTE on 7th September having already begun to turn north of west and destined to remain a fish storm. Fluctuating in intensity, the cyclone reached category one hurricane strength on 12th September as it approached Bermuda. Despite a few late wobbles, PAULETTE made landfall in north-eastern Bermuda two days later with winds gusting 90 knots. Trees and power lines were downed throughout Bermuda, leading to an island-wide power outage. After leaving the island, the storm strengthened into a category two hurricane as it accelerated north east causing a heavy swell along the eastern seaboard, and the death of a swimmer off New Jersey, reaching peak intensify of 100 knot winds before turning north-east into the Atlantic.

On 7th September, a disturbance close to the Cape Verde Islands beefed up into Tropical Storm RENE, making an early landfall on Boa Vista Island and weakening temporarily. Seaborne again, RENE reintensified as it headed into the east central Atlantic towards a wall of dry air, which successfully put an end to the convection cycle on 14th September.

On 10th September, all eyes were on a disturbance approaching the Bahamas which crossed Florida, just south of Miami, headed into the Gulf Of Mexico and quickly formed Tropical Storm SALLY. Overcoming upper level shear as it tracked west, SALLY hit category two hurricane strength and made landfall at peak intensity near Gulf Shores, Alabama with winds of 100 knots. This weakened fairly quickly but not before dumping biblical quantities of rain across the region. The worst of the muck and filth was to the east of the eye with maximum impact at landfall between Mobile and the Florida panhandle with widespread wind damage, storm surge and flooding. Over 2 feet of rain fell over Pensacola. Eight deaths were attributed to SALLY.

On 14th September, a westbound disturbance formed Tropical Storm TEDDY in mid-Atlantic, rapidly upgrading to a category one hurricane. This had a clear run for nine days, fluctuating in strength, making category four at peak as it headed towards Atlantic Canada. On final approach, this weakened to just below category one, making a landfall as a strong but vast (strong winds reported up to 1,000 miles from the centre) cyclone in Nova Scotia before heading out into the North Atlantic. TEDDY generated a heavy and wide swell across much of the eastern seaboard, and from the northern Caribbean to Bermuda. As a consequence, two swimmers died off Puerto Rico in rip currents as did a third off New Jersey.

Fish storm VICKY appeared to the west of the Cape Verde Islands on 14th September, battling upper level shear from the outset and was gone within three days. Nonetheless, VICKI caused heavy flooding in the Cape Verde Islands, killing one person in Praia.

Immediately astern of VICKY, a disturbance with what appeared to be strong potential started the trek west. By 18th September, this became Tropical Storm WILFRED. The Canadian guy had this down as Armageddon for Texas. Upper level shear produced by distant TEDDY had other ideas (as did most of us) and by 21st September, had disappeared altogether.

Having seen off the alphabet, (and a number of sweepstakes, I’m told), a maverick disturbance  two hundred miles north of the Azores became ALPHA. A meandering track eventually resulted in a landfall in Portugal on 19th September, weakening as it headed across into Spain. ALPHA proved to be a very considerable rainmaker causing street flooding in Lisbon, a train derailment near Madrid and the tragic death of a woman in rural Spain after a roof collapsed.

On 10th September, a trough of low pressure formed over the north-eastern Gulf of Mexico  moving south-west where it spawned Tropical Storm BETA. This loafed about for a few days with slight fluctuations in intensity but never making more than 55 knot winds, before landfall on the Matagorda peninsular in Texas on 22nd September. Extended sea time made BETA another rainmaker causing extensive flooding throughout much of the Greater Houston metropolitan area and the death of one poor soul in Bray’s Bayou.

A low pressure area which crossed the Lesser Antilles on 29th September eventually developed into Tropical Storm GAMMA on 2nd October off Yucatan, almost reaching hurricane strength before landfall near Tulum the following day. GAMMA weakened as it passed over the peninsular but re-intensified once seaborne again over the southern Gulf of Mexico before weakening and doubling back into southern Mexico. Heavy rain over already sodden land resulted in the evacuation of thousands of people with flash flooding, landslides, and mudslides. At least seven fatalities were reported.

Two days astern of GAMMA, a westbound disturbance crossed the Lesser Antilles, building slowly and becoming Tropical Storm DELTA on 4th October, centred around 100 miles south of Jamaica, and hitting category one hurricane strength 36 hours later. DELTA then deepened very rapidly indeed and reached category four On October 6th with winds topping 135 knots. This was a cruel prospect for the already flooded areas of central America. At this point, the Mexican government mobilised thousands of troops to help with the evacuation of sheltering people in the region. A welcome band of upper level shear took the edge off DELTA but still made landfall near Puerto Morelos as a category two hurricane with 100 knot winds. Weakening slightly as it crossed the peninsular, DELTA emerged  into the Gulf of Mexico and was back up to category two within 24 hours and category three the following day. With an eleventh hour wobble and easing to category two, DELTA landed near Creole, Louisiana late on 9th October with winds of 90 knots, weakening quickly as it headed inland. Nonetheless, states of emergency were declared in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama and numerous coastal and flood prone areas were evacuated. Six fatalities were attributed to DELTA, two each in Mexico, Louisiana and Florida.

A low-pressure cell had been lounging around in the south-western Atlantic for several days and finally developed into Tropical Storm EPSILON on 19th October. Over the next week or so, this indecisive cyclone fluctuated between categories two and four, with no clear forward track. Bermuda was mentioned almost hourly by various agencies but was eventually passed over 150 miles distant before EPSILON followed the traditional final trek north east. The remnants of EPSILON produced 30-metre rollers on the coast of Ireland on 28th October.

A long-predicted wide area of low pressure eventually formed in the south-western Caribbean on and drifted slowly north. Early on 25th October, this had become Tropical Storm ZETA, centred west of the Cayman Islands causing heavy rain and a landslide in Jamaica, killing two people. This intensified further reaching category one hurricane strength on 26th October, shortly before landfall north of Tulum on the Yucatan peninsular. After a day ashore, ZETA relaunched into the Gulf of Mexico and resumed intensification, reaching category two hurricane strength before landfall in Cocodrie, Louisiana on 28th October. ZETA weakened steadily after landfall, but not before causing six deaths across the southern states.

ETA began its US/Caribbean tour when two merging waves produced a depression in the eastern Caribbean which became Tropical Storm ETA on 1st November. ETA intensified to category one hurricane intensity the following day and category four in an almost unprecedented 12 hours with 145 knot winds as it headed east. This was to be a horrible storm with further heartbreak for central America making landfall overnight on 3rd November close to Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, with winds of 130 knots. More than 10,000 people sought refuge at shelters in Puerto Cabezas and surrounding villages. At the last count, 178 fatalities across Central America were attributed to the storm. ETA weakened ashore, but re-entered the Caribbean two days later and regained tropical storm strength making landfall in Cuba’s Sancti Spiritus Province on 8th November and a third landfall the following day over the Florida Keys. Bouncing around in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, ETA strengthened into a hurricane again but was bettered by upper level shear, weakening to tropical storm strength before landfall near Cedar Key, Florida on 12th November. Not done, ETA tracked north east emerging into the Atlantic Ocean near the Florida/Georgia border with a final arrogant sweep at the coast of the Carolinas before exiting stage right into the north Atlantic. Eleven deaths were reported in the United States. This was a horrible storm. Almost every area impacted from Nicaragua to Georgia had already suffered flooding this season, and of course, there was still more to come.

Another maverick fish-storm was, we hoped, the season’s finale. A low pressure area 400 miles southwest of the Azores became Subtropical Storm THETA on 10th November. This did nothing, went nowhere, touched 60 knots at one point and was done and dusted by 14th November.

Producing a daily bulletin which needs to inform and appeal to all for over six months, needs to have light moments or lose the reader (and the writer, for that matter). I like to report on the Blind Sniper now and again, as he often provides hilarious inaccuracy, but not when anything with likely lethal consequences is on radar. By this stage of the season, we had not reported on him for a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, IOTA, the last storm of the 2020 season would not provide the time and place either. A low pressure area piped up in the central Caribbean on 8th November and started moving slowly west, becoming Tropical Storm IOTA on 13th November, brushing the islands of northern Colombia with heavy rainfall, flash flooding and mudslides. IOTA continued intensifying until reaching category five hurricane intensity as it shaped up for Nicaragua. On November 17th having faltered slightly, IOTA made landfall in north-eastern Nicaragua then rapidly weakened as it moved inland. The final tally of casualties is not yet known, but at least 100 souls are known to have perished.

At the end of the 2019 season, we reported on a final tally of 99 deaths which was preceded by a dreadful estimated 119 in 2018 and 867 in 2017.  With incomplete figures from central America, a current total of 486 mostly avoidable deaths in 2020 remains a disaster in humanitarian terms.

I draw information from a number of sources, varying from the reliable agencies such as the UK Met Office, a couple of Europeans and of course many US particularly military sources. In quiet times, I check out some of the more eccentric storm enthusiasts who can always be relied upon to see a cumulus cloud and predict Armageddon. One such observer is the committed catastrophist blind-sniper, the Canadian guy who seems to have acquired a popular following amongst you, judging from feedback received. At least twice this season, he forecast a track which passed over south-east England. I am convinced he is on to me.

I would like to thank the many addressees who have sent feedback and comment throughout the season, particularly the Canadian Guy Fan Club. Always much appreciated. I think we have replied to all. We have been posting these reports on our website and using the dark art of Twitter @watkinsmarine and will continue to use these to disseminate matters of lesser maritime interest through the winter months.

Without wanting this to sound like a ghastly, tedious awards ceremony, I would like to say thanks to three people without whom I’d be firmly up the creek. This has been a long and difficult season for them in many ways.

Insomniac Carol Wright at our branding, digital and design agency friends Advantage London sits up at all hours of the night waiting to receive my bulletin, depending on my time zone, to post our bulletins on social media.

Dhiren Lal is the poor fellow who understands the obstacles a grumpy, IT-illiterate, old sailor faces with anything more advanced than morse code or semaphore. Technological progress actually made his job harder this year, but he pressed on with neither assistance nor complaint.

Energy Underwriter Laura Borley maintains our growing address list and continues to provide me with constant, diligent and unflappable support behind the scenes.

My sincere thanks to all three of them.

That’s me then. Finished With Engines 2020.

Stand down.