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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88. Thunderstorm2
1:43 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
hi kris
Member Since: December 22, 2006 Posts: 130 Comments: 7608
87. Patrap
1:42 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
yo kris
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 434 Comments: 133335
86. weatherboykris
1:42 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
hi
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
85. Patrap
1:42 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
Floridian..Okay.Neighbors we are.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 434 Comments: 133335
84. Thunderstorm2
1:41 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
Orlando, FL
Member Since: December 22, 2006 Posts: 130 Comments: 7608
83. Patrap
1:40 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
Where r u located ?
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 434 Comments: 133335
82. Thunderstorm2
1:39 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
this upcoming season is going to be my first taste of a HS upclose
Member Since: December 22, 2006 Posts: 130 Comments: 7608
81. Thunderstorm2
1:38 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
pity that isn't on the ban list
Member Since: December 22, 2006 Posts: 130 Comments: 7608
80. Patrap
1:37 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
I was in the worst .Thunderstorm2
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 434 Comments: 133335
79. Patrap
1:37 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
That wont happen.Hes done nothing to be banned.Cept drive us all nutz. LOL!Dont think that ones on the Bann list.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 434 Comments: 133335
78. Thunderstorm2
1:36 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
i agree
Member Since: December 22, 2006 Posts: 130 Comments: 7608
76. Thunderstorm2
1:34 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
really you should think about it early so you can prepare for the worst.
Member Since: December 22, 2006 Posts: 130 Comments: 7608
75. Patrap
1:27 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
Season still 178 days away..LOL
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 434 Comments: 133335
74. Thunderstorm2
1:26 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
It is a bit early to be thinking about the possibility of another Katrina like storm.
Member Since: December 22, 2006 Posts: 130 Comments: 7608
73. Patrap
1:06 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
Enjoy yer first day of retirement Max..and catch a Big one on yer trip today!..Thanks for all your years of service to America! 5
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 434 Comments: 133335
72. Thunderstorm2
1:05 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
How's that??
Member Since: December 22, 2006 Posts: 130 Comments: 7608
71. oakland
1:04 PM GMT on January 04, 2007
Anything is possible, Thunderstorm2, but for me, living in S. FL, I'd like to wait until next hurricane season starts before I begin thinking about such scenarios.
Member Since: September 4, 2005 Posts: 41 Comments: 7526
70. Thunderstorm2
11:07 AM GMT on January 04, 2007
if there is going to be hotter sea temps in the GOM and if a TD or TS crosses into the gulf we could see another Katrina like hurricane.
Member Since: December 22, 2006 Posts: 130 Comments: 7608
69. Tazmanian
4:23 AM GMT on January 04, 2007
and like all ways i run evere one off when i post in her oh well i this wont post any more in her be come evere time i post a commet they a run off
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5095 Comments: 116084
68. hurricane23
4:02 AM GMT on January 04, 2007
The bermuda high will shift many times from now till hurricane season so really there no way to know what kind of pattern will be in place.Its all about timeing with tropical systems.
Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13849
67. Tazmanian
4:02 AM GMT on January 04, 2007
and there will be hoter sea temps in the gulf this year then last year
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5095 Comments: 116084
66. 1900hurricane
4:00 AM GMT on January 04, 2007
I'm not saying it will, but if it does.
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 47 Comments: 11908
65. hurricane23
3:59 AM GMT on January 04, 2007
If that bermuda high were to remain in place Florida might at great risk with systems crossing into the gulf of mexico.Remember once a system moves into the gulf it has no place to go but to hit land somewere.
Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13849
63. 1900hurricane
3:54 AM GMT on January 04, 2007
If that Bermuda High remans in place for the Hurricane Season, what do you think the chances are that the Houston Area will see a hurricane?
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 47 Comments: 11908
61. hurricane23
3:46 AM GMT on January 04, 2007
LOL!Hopefully this current pattern thats in place now wont hold cause if it does florida might be in some trouble this season.Hopefully we end up with persistent troffiness kicking everthing out to sea.Last year capeverde systems had absolutely no chance at reaching the U.S. with the TROF we had in place.
Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13849
60. weatherboykris
3:40 AM GMT on January 04, 2007
Ah,H23.Did you have to post the numbers?Now everyone will say I cheated when I make my own forecast tomorrow.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
59. hurricane23
3:28 AM GMT on January 04, 2007
Seems like TSR is still calling for an active season across the Atlantic Basin.

15/8/4
Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13849
58. hornfan
3:28 AM GMT on January 04, 2007
1900 - it has already started raining here
Member Since: August 26, 2006 Posts: 28 Comments: 7902
57. 1900hurricane
3:27 AM GMT on January 04, 2007
Here comes the rain...

Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 47 Comments: 11908
55. pottery
3:19 AM GMT on January 04, 2007
Its too cold there for me, STL........
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 25642
53. pottery
3:13 AM GMT on January 04, 2007
Oh, and that should be a Manual, hand- opperated fan too......
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 25642
52. pottery
3:10 AM GMT on January 04, 2007
Sorry, that should be a 0.06 C error....
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 25642
51. pottery
2:59 AM GMT on January 04, 2007
The United Kingdom Met. Office is predicting that 2007 will be the warmests year on record, Internationally. They have a 0.06 % error rating .........Buy a fan guys...
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 25642
50. ryang
9:32 PM AST on January 03, 2007
Hi frozencannuck.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
47. Frozencanuck
1:05 AM GMT on January 04, 2007
LMAO Rand, I can imagine there have been many jokes that have been going on since this was published.
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45. Frozencanuck
12:48 AM GMT on January 04, 2007
O'Hare's UFO....was it a weather phenomenon or something more?
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43. N3EG
4:34 PM PST on January 03, 2007
Posted By: Westcoaster: We don't get named hurricanes or cyclones here, but they should well name them.

Thingamabobbercane. Our weather is a freakin' joke to them.

Posted By: EricNielsen: The Amazon will become a desert, and the forests of Siberia will burn and release more methane and plagues will return.

Which ones? Locusts and frogs and snakes, oh my?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
42. Inyo
12:25 AM GMT on January 04, 2007
For Example In Death Valley, which usually gets only 2" of rainfall a year, now there are flowers blooming everywhere.(Discovery Channel) The excess rain has roused long dormant seeds into flowering plants. Obviously there were plants there to go to seed in the first place. Sounds like a natural cycle to me!

It is natural to get wet years in the desert. Usually what happens is a localized thunderstorm will cause a bunch of flowers to pop up in one place, make seeds, and die. the seeds can wait for many, many years for another thunderstorm. However, both the scope and coverage of the rainfall in 2004-2005 around Death Valley was unheard of in the last 100 years, and maybe much longer. A lake filled up for the spring, that may not have held that much water since the Ice Age.

The desert is always changing. It was somewhat wetter 100 years ago, then became much drier, then is becoming (relatively) wetter again. if 2004-2005 is a natural cycle, it is a once in a lifetime event, at least. If we see more rainfall of this magnitude in the area in the next 50 years, it is probably related to climate change, either natural or human caused.
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41. HurricaneMyles
12:20 AM GMT on January 04, 2007
I'd like to stick a tunnel up your arse! Shut up about them and please stop littering the blog with the junk. You can make all the unsubstantiated claims you want, but in the end you have no evidence besides a couple of theorys you really dont understand.

BTW, notice how you kill the blog when you spam that crap...?
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Dr. Masters co-founded wunderground in 1995. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990. Co-blogging with him: Bob Henson, @bhensonweather

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