The global hurricane season of 2006: was it unusual?

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:22 PM GMT on January 03, 2007

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The year 2006 is in the books, and its time to review the notable tropical cyclones of the year. For the first time since 1997, there was little to talk about in the Atlantic. The only Atlantic storm of significance was Hurricane Ernesto, which killed five people in Haiti and did $500 million in damage to the U.S. East Coast. The action was much more intense in the Eastern Pacific, which saw 20 named storms (16 is average) and six major hurricanes (4.5 is average.) The Pacific coast of Mexico was pounded by three tropical cyclones in 2006: Hurricane John hit Baja as a Category 2 hurricane, killing 5; Hurricane Lane hit north of Mazatlan as a Category 3 hurricane, killing 4; and Tropical Storm Paul hit the same region, killing four. Also notable, although it did not affect land, was Hurricane Sergio. It formed in mid-November and grew to Category 2 strength, becoming the strongest Northeast Pacific hurricane so late in the season and the longest-lived November tropical cyclone on record in that ocean basin.


Figure 1. Tropical Storm Ernesto just before landfall in North Carolina, August 31, 2006.


Figure 2. Statistics for the global tropical cyclone season of 2006. The three numbers in each box represent the actual number observed in 2006, followed by the average for the period 1970-2005 (in parentheses), followed by the record from the same period (in red).

Looking at the statistics for the season (Figure 2), 2006 appears to be a fairly normal year. No records were set for tropical cyclone activity in any ocean basin. Was it was a good year for the proponents of the theory that global warming is causing an increase in strong hurricanes? Twenty-nine major hurricane formed in 2006, just one shy of the record of 30, and 21 Category 4 and 5 storms formed, half way between the average of 17 and the record high of 25. These numbers are similar to those of 2005, which had 27 major storms and 22 Category 4 and 5 storms. However, as reported in a Science article by Landsea et. al in July, the number of Category 4 and 5 storms between 1978-1990 globally may have been undercounted by 70 storms. If true, this would bring the statistics for 2005 and 2006 closer to average for these most powerful of tropical cyclones. A new policy statement regarding the unproven link between stronger hurricanes and climate change was adopted by the World Meteorological Organization in December, in response to the recommendations of a meeting of 125 hurricane researchers that attended a meeting in Costa Rica. The summary statement (which I agree with) is posted at the World Meteorological Organization web site, and the ten main points are presented below. There is also a detailed statement with references to the scientific literature available at the WMO web site.

Consensus Statements by International Workshop on Tropical Cyclones-VI (IWTC-VI) Participants:

The surfaces of most tropical oceans have warmed by 0.25 - 0.5°C during the past several decades. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) considers that the likely primary cause of the rise in global mean surface temperature in the past 50 years is the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations. The global community of tropical cyclone researchers and forecasters as represented at the 6th International Workshop on Tropical Cyclones of the World Meteorological Organization has released a statement on the links between anthropogenic (human-induced) climate change and tropical cyclones, including hurricanes and typhoons. This statement is in response to increased attention on tropical cyclones due to the following events:

a) There have been a number of recent high-impact tropical cyclone events around the globe. These include 10 landfalling tropical cyclones in Japan in 2004, five tropical cyclones affecting the Cook Islands in a five-week period in 2005, Cyclone Gafilo in Madagascar in 2004, Cyclone Larry in Australia in 2006, Typhoon Saomai in China in 2006, and the extremely active 2004 and 2005 Atlantic tropical cyclone seasons - including the catastrophic socio-economic impact of Hurricane Katrina.

b) Some recent scientific articles have reported a large increase in tropical cyclone energy, numbers, and wind-speeds in some regions during the last few decades in association with warmer sea surface temperatures. Other studies report that changes in observational techniques and instrumentation are responsible for these increases.

1. Though there is evidence both for and against the existence of a detectable anthropogenic signal in the tropical cyclone climate record to date, no firm conclusion can be made on this point.

2. No individual tropical cyclone can be directly attributed to climate change.

3. The recent increase in societal impact from tropical cyclones has largely been caused by rising concentrations of population and infrastructure in coastal regions.

4. Tropical cyclone wind-speed monitoring has changed dramatically over the last few decades, leading to difficulties in determining accurate trends.

5. There is an observed multi-decadal variability of tropical cyclones in some regions whose causes, whether natural, anthropogenic or a combination, are currently being debated. This variability makes detecting any long-term trends in tropical cyclone activity difficult.

6. It is likely that some increase in tropical cyclone peak wind-speed and rainfall will occur if the climate continues to warm. Model studies and theory project a 3-5% increase in wind-speed per degree Celsius increase of tropical sea surface temperatures.

7. There is an inconsistency between the small changes in wind-speed projected by theory and modeling versus large changes reported by some observational studies.

8. Although recent climate model simulations project a decrease or no change in global tropical cyclone numbers in a warmer climate, there is low confidence in this projection. In addition, it is unknown how tropical cyclone tracks or areas of impact will change in the future.

9. Large regional variations exist in methods used to monitor tropical cyclones. Also, most regions have no measurements by instrumented aircraft. These significant limitations will continue to make detection of trends difficult.

10. If the projected rise in sea level due to global warming occurs, then the vulnerability to tropical cyclone storm surge flooding would increase.

Jeff Masters

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138. hurricane23
2:17 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
Yea Randrewl and if Wilma would have not moved over land South Florida could have easily experienced cat 2-3 winds which would have done alot more damage.Also if Katrina would have had lets say 6-12 more hours out over water the situation would have been alot worse for southeast florida.
Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13707
137. weatherboykris
2:16 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
Dr. Masters has a new blog.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
136. Thunderstorm2
2:16 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
there is lots of exceptions
Member Since: December 22, 2006 Posts: 129 Comments: 7608
134. Thunderstorm2
2:12 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
tornados im not to sure of
Member Since: December 22, 2006 Posts: 129 Comments: 7608
130. Patrap
2:09 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
Next winter?..we only 2 weeks into this one..LOL!
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 423 Comments: 127805
129. Patrap
2:08 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
Katrina ..or a similar storm can run over Orlando..if a High pressure dome would have made A Rita or Katrina turn NE..Orlando wouldnt be here.If directly impacted.And yes..there would have been surge.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 423 Comments: 127805
128. weatherboykris
2:08 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
Next winter is looking like it could be pretty cold if a La Nina does form.I think everyone other than Denver should give up on this winter.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
127. Patrap
2:07 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
Better refer to Orlando past storm History.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 423 Comments: 127805
126. weatherboykris
2:06 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
Rand,that damage was in Miami,not Orlando.All I meant was that there's no surge,and in most instances the storms weaken significantly by the time they get to Orlando.Charley was an exception.

Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
125. Thunderstorm2
2:06 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
ive just moved here and im already starting to hate the heat
Member Since: December 22, 2006 Posts: 129 Comments: 7608
124. Thunderstorm2
2:04 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
Orlando doesn't have a force field around it to stop the damade from winds and rain.
Member Since: December 22, 2006 Posts: 129 Comments: 7608
123. weatherboykris
2:04 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
They're right,Thunder2.The lack of AC can really get to you.Luckily if you're in an inland area like Orlando,you may get a few thunderstorms of of the sea breezes that will cool you down.Unfortunately,right after those storms, it's even more humid than before.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
122. Patrap
2:04 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
Okay..lesson over.Outside for recess..Wipe yer shoe before returning..LOL!
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 423 Comments: 127805
121. WSI
2:02 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
Smells really trollish in here. ;)
119. weatherboykris
2:00 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
And besides,I know what a hurricane's like.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
118. Patrap
2:00 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
This is a typical off-season Morning roundtable....
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 423 Comments: 127805
117. Patrap
1:59 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
Never is word one never uses in Tropical forecasting...
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 423 Comments: 127805
116. Thunderstorm2
1:59 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
well if the rest of my family go crazy then i might just stick them in a bodybag
Member Since: December 22, 2006 Posts: 129 Comments: 7608
115. Patrap
1:58 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
note.It takes 2 large plastic garbage bags to securely wrap a Human remain..bring grey tap too.
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114. Patrap
1:57 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
Yeah..loads of fun..
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 423 Comments: 127805
113. weatherboykris
1:57 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
Thunder,you will never have to use body bags in Orlando after a hurricane.No storm surge gets in there and besides,unless you've got family members with who,who're you going to stick in a body bag?
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
111. Patrap
1:56 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
The body bags are for the folks..who cant laugh no more.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 423 Comments: 127805
110. Thunderstorm2
1:56 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
so you will need body bags for anyone who comes hurtling into the window
Member Since: December 22, 2006 Posts: 129 Comments: 7608
108. Thunderstorm2
1:54 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
B...BODY BAGS??
Member Since: December 22, 2006 Posts: 129 Comments: 7608
106. Patrap
1:54 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
acclimate to 100plus temps.Or buy a gen and window unit.No elect..no A/c.That tends to make the survivors a lil ..er, restless and grumpy.O yeah..sidearms and long rifles too.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 423 Comments: 127805
105. weatherboykris
1:54 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
Be sure to stock up on food,water..Meds...Fuel...Rescue equpment.Film.Body Bags...etc.

LOL
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
104. weatherboykris
1:53 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
me too,Thunder.And not because I like all the havoc,death and destruction.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
103. Patrap
1:52 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
Be sure to stock up on food,water..Meds...Fuel...Rescue equpment.Film.Body Bags...etc.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 423 Comments: 127805
102. Patrap
1:51 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
I was here..1 mile west of here.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 423 Comments: 127805
101. Thunderstorm2
1:50 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
as i said im looking forward to it
Member Since: December 22, 2006 Posts: 129 Comments: 7608
100. Patrap
1:50 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
Whens it gonna stop.?..Please make it stop!...O why didnt I evacuate ?...
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 423 Comments: 127805
99. Patrap
1:50 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
Ive seen that look rand..about 4 hours after Katrina passed..LOL..
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 423 Comments: 127805
97. weatherboykris
1:49 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
And besides...as I said,fun in an odd sense of the word.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
96. Patrap
1:47 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
The storm comes and goes. Then the real work begins.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 423 Comments: 127805
95. Patrap
1:47 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
Then youve never been in a calamity before.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 423 Comments: 127805
94. weatherboykris
1:46 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
That's just how I view it,Patrap.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
93. Thunderstorm2
1:46 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
so i better not pray to hard
Member Since: December 22, 2006 Posts: 129 Comments: 7608
92. Patrap
1:45 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
Well..whatch what you ask for.U just might get it.Then youll see the lack of FUN in an MCI.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 423 Comments: 127805
91. Thunderstorm2
1:44 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
im looking forward to it
Member Since: December 22, 2006 Posts: 129 Comments: 7608
90. Patrap
1:44 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
Fun..thats a weird way to describe it.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 423 Comments: 127805
89. weatherboykris
1:43 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
Thunder2, Hurricanes can be interesting,and in some cases fun(in an odd sense of the word).
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
88. Thunderstorm2
1:43 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
hi kris
Member Since: December 22, 2006 Posts: 129 Comments: 7608

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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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