This year has been a busy hurricane season, leaving lasting effects behind in Puerto Rico, Houston, Texas and portions of Florida.
Since Wilma in 2005, no Category-3 or stronger hurricane had made landfall on the U.S. proper, despite plenty of warm water in the Gulf of Mexico to form hurricanes every season. But did Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria really notch any new records?
Harvey came ashore east of Corpus Christi as a Category-4. Weakened, it moved northeast toward Houston where it stalled and rained for the next six days. At one location near Houston more than 40 inches of rain fell in a 24-hour period. Had Harvey moved inland, as hurricanes usually do, rainfall would have spread over a broader area and no local Texas records would have been set. The combination of heavy rainfall and Houston’s inefficient storm drainage led to massive flooding. Property damage there is expected to run into the billions across a highly developed, densely populated metropolitan area.
Texans cannot claim the 24-hour rainfall record — not for the Western Hemisphere nor worldwide. Hurricane Wilma (2005) established the single-day record, dropping 65 inches on an island just off the Yucatan Peninsula. The global 24-hour record fell during a 1966 tropical event over the island of La Reunion in the western Indian Ocean. The 72 inches stands unchallenged.
Hurricane Irma was touted to become the most costly in U.S. history. Fortunately it did not come ashore at Miami Beach, as first predicted, but proceeded west into the Florida Straits where it turned abruptly north and inflicted severe damage on the Keys. Then, passing directly over the Everglades and Marco Island, the eye continued to track just onshore, depriving Irma the energy from Gulf water needed to sustain its strength. The storm further weakened as it passed over Naples and Fort Myers. By Tampa Bay it had further diminished in strength, and pushed into Georgia as a tropical storm. …
Two more Atlantic hurricanes quickly made their appearances in the wake of Harvey and Irma. Jose threatened, but curled away to the north and never quite made landfall. Maria was not so forgiving. The one-time Category-5 plowed directly into the eastern end of Puerto Rico and delivered a devastating blow to its residents and economy. …
Even so the hurricanes of 2017, with its six majors including Harvey, Irma and Maria, are by no means unprecedented for maximum sustained wind speed, minimum barometric pressure (principal measure of hurricane strength), or rainfall during an entire event. Unless additional hurricanes develop in late October, this season should fall short of setting records in these categories. … [Read the rest.]