Munich Re daily storm reports Atlantic & Caribbean year ten - 2017 review 2018 forecast
Welcome to our tenth year of daily reports for the Atlantic basin, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico storm season. New readers who recoil with horror seeing endless pages of text may rest assured that this is by far the most I would expect anyone to read, being our joint summary of 2017 and forecast for 2018. We get the daily report done in a paragraph or two.
The season is given a nominal start date of June 1st by various professional agencies, analysts and vile weather enthusiasts continuing through to a frankly overambitious end on November 30th. Our aim is to provide a daily simple, plainly worded and - one hopes – reasonably accurate forecast. We will be sending the first daily report later today.
2017 – 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. At Munich Re, we first tracked this on July 30th as it left the African coast and the professional agencies picked it up as it passed the Leeward Islands just a week later, eventually making tropical storm force on August 7th as it passed 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.
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 was a dreadful season in humanitarian terms as well as the costliest on record.
I have a sailor's natural disdain for long-range forecasts and nine years of this has taught me that the more that I learn, the less I know. This was illustrated by my prediction for 2017 which 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 through the summer. Nobody else was even close, for that matter. Even the Canadian catastrophist fell short of such a ghastly prediction. Nonetheless, I'll take a stab at it.
Sea temperatures are higher than normal across the western Atlantic and Caribbean basins - very similar to the picture last year, which is conducive for cyclonic strengthening. In addition, the Bermuda High pressure centre will also again be in a favourable latitude, allowing more storm formation as low pressure pulses cross the pond on the West African – Caribbean conveyor belt. Early indications show that the currently weak La Nina appears likely to do little more than transition to neutral over the summer with no significant El Nino to dampen the passion of developing systems with upper level wind shear until the autumn at the very earliest, if at all. Consequently, warm water and reduced upper level shear look to be the flavour of the 2018 season which will then bring another busy season, with a higher than average number of storms. Having missed the target by a good mile last season, my reluctant prediction of 15 named storms, 8 hurricanes and 4 major hurricanes is a good as starting point as any, if rather gloomy and probably slightly higher than the rest of the herd.
Names this year will be the same as 2012 with the exception of SANDY, which has been replaced by SARA.
ALBERTO, BERYL, CHRIS, DEBBY (sic), ERNESTO, FLORENCE, GORDON, HELENE, ISAAC, JOYCE, KIRK, LESLIE, MICHAEL, NADINE, OSCAR (which ends my predicted season) PATTY, RAFAEL, SARA, TONY, VALERIE and WILLIAM. Names are recycled in this way but rotters are retired - hence no SANDY this year.
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 Canadian guy, or ‘blind sniper', who seems to have acquired a popular following amongst you, judging from feedback received. He has had the odd success over the years, but has only been remarkable by fairly consistent inaccuracy. However, credit where credit is due. Deranged or not, he was spot on with MATTHEW in October 2016, long before anyone even thought this would go to the eastern seaboard. He did at one point produce a track for OPHELIA last year which would have passed directly over my house. This gives me cause to suspect that he is on to me and knows where I live.
I had told my colleagues that 2017 would be my last year only to be reminded that I said this every November for the past nine years. So, true to form, I'll be starting the tenth year today. We start collecting information early each morning London time. Once the overnight reports are in from the US (mid-afternoon our time), we issue our daily report as an email. Later these reports are posted on our website at www.watkins-marine.com and using Twitter on @watkinsmarine - do follow us if you dabble in such dark arts.
Thanks to the many addressees who have sent feedback and comment throughout the winter. This is always much appreciated. It has also been a pleasure to meet many of you during your visits to London.
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