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Subject: E11) How many tropical cyclones have there been each year in the Atlantic basin? What years were the greatest and fewest seen?
Contributed by Chris Landsea
The Atlantic hurricane database (or HURDAT) extends back to 1851. However, because tropical storms and hurricanes spend much of their lifetime over the open ocean - some never hitting land - many systems were "missed" during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries (Vecchi and Knutson 2008). Starting in 1944, systematic aircraft reconnaissance was commenced for monitoring both tropical cyclones and disturbances that had the potential to develop into tropical storms and hurricanes. This did provide much improved monitoring, but still about half of the Atlantic basin was not covered (Sheets 1990). Beginning in 1966, daily satellite imagery became available at the National Hurricane Center, and thus statistics from this time forward are most complete (McAdie et al. 2009).
For hurricanes striking the USA Atlantic and Gulf coasts, one can go back further in time with relatively reliable counts of systems because enough people have lived along coastlines since 1900.
Thus, the following records for the period of reliable data hold for the entire Atlantic basin (from 1966-2012) and for the USA coastline (1900-2012):
& Landsea et al. (2010) documented a rather large increase in short-lived tropical storms and hurricanes in the last decade, which is likely due to improved monitoring capabilities, that may be influencing the climatological average number of TCs in the Atlantic basin. With the artificial jump in the 2000s in the frequency of short-lived systems, a more realistic estimate of the long-term climatology may be closer to 13 tropical storms and hurricanes per year.
* 1950 is recorded as the busiest season in the whole database for number of Major Hurricanes with 8.
+ 1886 is recorded as the most active hurricane season for the continental USA with 7 landfalling hurricanes.
Named Storms = Tropical Storms, Hurricanes and
Landsea,C.W., G.A. Vecchi, L. Bengtsson, and T. R. Knutson, 2010: Impact of Duration Thresholds on Atlantic Tropical Cyclone Counts. Journal of Climate, 23(10), 2508-2519.
McAdie, C. J., C. W. Landsea, C. J. Neuman, J. E. David, E. Blake, and G. R. Hamner, 2009: Tropical Cyclones of the North Atlantic Ocean, 1851-2006. Historical Climatology Series 6-2,Prepared by the National Climatic Data Center, Asheville, NC in cooperation with the National Hurricane Center, Miami, FL, 238 pp.
Sheets, R.C., 1990: "The National Hurricane Center - Past, present, and future.", Wea. Forecasting,5, 185-232.
Vecchi, G.A. and T. R. Knutson, 2008. "On estimates of historical North Atlantic tropical cyclone activity.", J. Climate, 21, 3580.
Last Revised : July 2, 2013
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