Finished With Engines & the Butcher’s Bill

As the last wisps of disturbed tropical air fade into the winter gloom of the North Atlantic and with no signs of any further organised circulation, it would seem that the 2017 season has finally gone gentle into that good night. The guards are at the ramparts across the Gulf of Mexico – indeed, have been so for almost two months.

Understandably, anyone who would have actually announced that in September during such a season as this one would have needed to have their head examined.

I have a sailor's natural aversion to ringing down finished with engines too early, but recognise that all the reliable commentators have left the wheelhouse, paid off, packed their grips and have a taxi waiting on the quayside. With this in mind, and a robust fender of a week of caution since the last whiff of a tropical breeze, I feel reasonably confident in joining the eager dash home to sleep in the lee of Bum Island. Time to ring off on the 2017 season with my final daily report for the year.

My reluctant prediction for this storm season was as pathetic as it was inaccurate. My 12 named storms, 6 hurricanes and 2 intense hurricanes were far, far short of the 17 named storms, 10 hurricanes and 6 intense hurricanes we faced this summer. Nobody else was even close, for that matter. No wonder they've all folded their tents and silently stolen away. Even the Canadian catastrophist fell short of such a ghastly prediction.

So, the butcher's bill.

We started very early with short-lived ARLENE in subtropical Atlantic which was here and gone late in April, before most commentators were out of bed.

We had nothing else for almost 8 weeks when BRET swept in from the Atlantic production line and kept a westerly heading past the Netherlands Antilles finally petering out to the north of Lake Maracaibo, with one reported fatality in Trinidad.

CINDY was first picked up 120 miles east of Trinidad on June 14th and took a leisurely stroll through the Yucatan channel from the south east before hitting tropical storm strength a week later just two days before making a landfall close to Sabine Pass as rainmaker with 3 reported fatalities.

DON was a non-event which tracked close to the Netherlands Antilles on a westerly heading before losing interest. Coincidentally, this uninspiring storm appeared at about the same time that one or two Atlantic storm celebrities were amending their predictions to warn us of a very active season. This caused some amusement to those beginning to mumble ‘another boring season'. Indeed, almost another month passed before tropical storm EMILY formed in the tail of a frontal system to the west of Florida.

EMILY made a landfall around St Petersburg on 31st July with a dash across the Florida peninsula before a rapid demise shortly after leaving the eastern seaboard.

Things started to get serious with FRANKLIN which was the first of 10 consecutive hurricanes. We first picked it up on July 30th as it left the African coast and the various agencies picked it up as it passed the Leeward Islands, eventually making tropical storm force on August 7th passing Nicaragua. This grazed the Yucatan peninsula and hit
hurricane strength shortly before making a landfall close to the town of Lechuguillas in the Mexican state of Veracruz, but surprisingly without any reported fatalities.

Fish storm GERT reached category 2 hurricane strength as it passed between Bermuda and the Outer Banks around August 16th but remained seaborne, nonetheless two fatalities were reported at sea.

Violent rainmaker HARVEY touched category 4 just before landfall at Rockport close to Corpus Christi on 26th August then drifted offshore again before having a second bite at landfall in south eastern Louisiana on 30th August as a tropical storm, having caused flooding in biblical proportions across the region and an estimated 91 deaths.

IRMA followed close behind - an extremely powerful and catastrophic hurricane, the strongest since WILMA in 2005 in terms of maximum sustained winds, and the first Category 5 hurricane on record to strike the Leeward Islands, laying waste to isolated islands with a tragic death toll of a reported 134.

Hurricane JOSE was the longest-lived Atlantic hurricane since NADINE in 2012. This was an unpredictable and erratic storm which developed into a tropical storm on September 5 from a tropical wave that left the west coast of Africa nearly a week earlier. A period of rapid intensification ensued on September 6, when JOSE reached hurricane intensity. On September 8, it reached its peak intensity as a high-end Category 4 hurricane. However, due to wind shear, it weakened over the next few days as it completed an anti-cyclonic loop north of Hispaniola. Despite weakening to a tropical storm on September 14, JOSE managed to regain hurricane intensity the next day as it began to curve north. Never again strengthening above Category 1, it degraded to a tropical storm once again on September 20 then two days later, transitioned into a post-tropical cyclone as it drifted northeast off the coast of New England. By September 26, the remnants of JOSE dissipated off the eastern seaboard.

Hurricane KATIA was a tropical cyclone that formed in the Gulf of Mexico on September 5 - the first instance of three simultaneously active hurricanes since 2010. KATIA reached its peak as a Category 2 hurricane shortly before hitting eastern Mexico. A short-lived storm, KATIA made landfall early in its life at a time when Mexico was experiencing earthquakes, triggering mudslides upon impact with three fatalities reported.

LEE made hurricane strength on September 27th as a category 3 storm but remained seaborne.

Hurricane MARIA struck Puerto Rico as a high-end Category 4 hurricane on September 20 and is regarded as the worst natural disaster on record in Dominica, and caused a major humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico. At its peak, the hurricane caused catastrophic damage and numerous fatalities across the northeastern Caribbean, compounding recovery efforts in the areas of the Leeward Islands already struck by Hurricane IRMA just two weeks previously. Officially, the death toll for MARIA is unclear due to the difficulties with accurate reporting in Puerto Rico, but is expected to reach 583 souls lost.

Hurricane NATE was an unusually fast-moving tropical cyclone that caused attained hurricane intensity while moving through the Yucatan Channel early on October 7 making landfall near the mouth of the Mississippi River then taking a second bite at Biloxi, Mississippi early on October 8th. NATE is attributed with causing 45 deaths.

Hurricane OPHELIA became the tenth consecutive hurricane of the season and looked to be little more than a fish storm until it set its sights on the British Isles and the Republic of Ireland, causing 5 deaths there.

Winding the season down, PHILIPPE began life in the far south west of the Caribbean, picking up tropical storm strength as it brushed across the Florida peninsula, dissipating as it left the eastern seaboard.

Finally, RINA piped up some 1,000 miles east of Bermuda and was gone in 36 hours without serious development or impact.

An estimated 867 deaths. This has been a dreadful season in humanitarian terms. Many of you will be aware that 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 occasionally share a snippet from one 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, who seems to have acquired a popular following amongst you judging from feedback received. I envisage this modeller in a lonely snowbound shack furiously scrawling violent isobaric curves across a map of the United States. He has had the odd success over the years, but has only been remarkable by consistent inaccuracy this year. He did at one point produce a track for OPHELIA which would have passed directly over my home. This gives me cause to suspect that he is on to me and knows where I live. Next year will be our tenth year of daily reporting and I've given up saying that I probably won't do this next year. In the meantime, thanks to the many addressees who have sent feedback and comment throughout the season. 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 interest through the winter months. I would like to thank insomniac Carol Wright at our branding, digital and design agency friends Advantage London who sits up at all hours of the night waiting to post our bulletins on social media. Thanks too to Laura Jeakins and Dhiran Lal here at Munich Re for their support with the technical stuff and address lists.

That's me then. Time to stand down. Finished With Engines.