As the 2021 hurricane season swiftly approaches, many are anxious about what it will mean for the Caribbean. Though spared from the 2020 season for the most part, the upsurge in activity shows the alarming impact of climate change. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) recently announced the new hurricane season average as 14 named storms, 7 hurricanes, and 3 major hurricanes, following the period of 1991-2020 . This year will now see the updated average taken into effect, and it has already been forecast to be above average.
What you may not know is although the season commences June 1st annually, there is a peak period in each hurricane season. Here is some insight to the worst months for hurricanes.
Is there such a thing as a “bad month” for a hurricane?
Yes, in fact, the season peaks between August and October annually, and September 10th has been statistically proven as the day is most likely for a hurricane to form in the Atlantic. Hurricanes need water temperatures above 80° to form, and this is optimal during the middle of the season.
The temperatures are usually accompanied by a lack of wind shear, which is “the variation of the wind’s speed or direction over a short distance within the atmosphere.” (NPR). Between June and July, the wind shear is still relatively high after spring but quickly fades in August. With little wind shear to rip apart hurricanes as they form in warmer waters, the peak of the season begins.
How bad can it be?
Alongside the frequency of hurricanes, there is the significant concern about the speed at which they move. Within the last 70 years, hurricanes around the world have slowed down by 10%, signally longer periods of heavy winds and rains. Hurricane Harvey, formed August 17th, 2017, is often referenced for the length of time it dwelled over Texas, causing 60 inches of rain in over a week. Bringing it closer to home, Hurricane Dorian made landfall on the Abacos Islands on September 1st, 2019 and dissipated on September 10th. The catastrophic loss was worth approximately USD5.1 million for 10 days of impact.
How badly has the Caribbean been hit during the peak of the season?
The Caribbean recorded five of its most deadly hurricanes between 1979 and 2019, four of which formed in the peak of the season. These included Hurricane David of August 1979 and Hurricane Jeanne of September 2004. Not only are hurricanes formed during the peak, but more tropical waves and clusters of thunderstorms are likely to form. Take a look at this notable list of weather events:
- Hurricane Gilbert “slammed” Jamaica on September 12th, 1988, and was the first hurricane to hit the island directly since 1951. Devastation was caused as the eyewall travelled the entire island, even triggering a 9ft storm surge on the north east of the island.
- Hurricane Ivan has been etched into Grenada’s history, as one of the most powerful tropical storms to hit the Caribbean in that decade. Making landfall on September 4, 2004, Ivan wreaked havoc on the Spice isle as a Category 3 Tropical Storm.
- Hurricanes Irma and Maria continue to be deemed unprecedented, having formed in the Atlantic within two weeks of impact. Hurricane Irma caused widespread destruction in September 2017 and was the first Category 5 Hurricane to hit the Leeward Islands. Two weeks later, the northeastern Caribbean was hit by the deadly Category 5 Hurricane Maria. This made history in the region showing how quickly devastating hurricanes can be formed in succession.