Hurricane Isaias’ worrisome path toward the United States this weekend is hardly our first bout of storm-induced heartburn this year. This hurricane season is just two months old and it’s already smashed a handful of records for the most activity we’ve ever recorded so early in the season. Even though we’re off to a record start this year, the activity we’ve seen so far pales in comparison to the beginning of the historic 2005 hurricane season, a year that eventually saw 27 named storms.
This hurricane season has seen nine named storms as of July 30. The season began a few weeks ahead of schedule with the formation of Tropical Storm Arthur off the coast of Florida on May 16, a storm that came within a few miles of landfall on North Carolina’s Outer Banks before scooting out to sea. Four of those storms have made landfall in the United States, including Bertha in South Carolina, Cristobal in Louisiana, Fay in New Jersey, and Hanna in Texas.
Nine storms in total wouldn’t be atypical come September or October, but this kind of activity is unheard of so early in the year. According to the National Hurricane Center’s climatology, a normal hurricane season in the Atlantic would only have seen two named storms by August 1, and wouldn’t record its ninth named storm (the “I” storm) until October 4.
This year’s record start—combined with the storms’ effects on the United States so far—draws inevitable comparisons to the hyperactive 2005 hurricane season. That season 15 years ago previously held the record for the most named storms so early in the year.
The 2005 season ultimately saw an unprecedented 27 named storms, exhausting the list of storm names and requiring the use of Greek letters to name the final six storms, one of which continued into the first week of January 2006. (There were really 28 storms that year—forecasters caught an unnamed subtropical storm while conducting a post-season review.)
Even though we’re beating the pace set by the most productive Atlantic hurricane season on record, this year still doesn’t come close to matching the fury of the storms we saw early that season.
While we’re knocking through storm names faster than ever before, most of this year’s storms haven’t been much to write home about in terms of strength or longevity. Seven of the nine storms were relatively short-lived tropical storms. Hurricane Hanna reached a maximum strength of 90 MPH as it made landfall in southern Texas on July 25. Hurricane Isaias, ongoing as of this post’s publication, has 75 MPH winds and it’s forecast to remain a category one hurricane for the next several days.
Compare that to the historic 2005 season. We were ahead of schedule by this point in 2005 as well, having seen seven named storms through July 30 that year. However, the storms that formed by that point included Hurricane Dennis and Hurricane Emily. Dennis was a category four storm that killed dozens of people and left behind billions of dollars of damage. Emily strengthened into a scale-topping category five at one point and made several landfalls as a strong hurricane. We haven’t come anywhere close to that kind of ferocity so far this year.
This year’s prolific activity doesn’t necessarily foretell what’s to come for the rest of the season. Even the 2005 hurricane season saw weeks-long lulls between bursts of activity. Forecasters expected above-average tropical activity across the Atlantic this year as a result of warm waters and a potential La Niña this fall, which would allow calmer conditions in the eastern Pacific to reduce destructive wind shear that flows over the Atlantic.