MIAMI – Destructive, deadly tropical storms and hurricanes are soon to come this summer and fall and for hundreds of millions of Americans who live in “the zone,” the annual question is: “Will we escape the winds, rains and wrath?”
While impossible to answer that question today, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association and National Hurricane Center have now issued their 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season forecast, based on months of ongoing analysis of atmospheric conditions and ocean temperatures.
And the meteorological experts say they expect an above-average season – 11 to 17 named tropical storms, of those, five to nine hurricanes and, of those, 2 to 4 will become major hurricanes. Major hurricanes are Category 3 (winds of 111to 130 mph,) Category 4 (winds between 131 to 155 mph,) and the monstrous Category 5 storm (winds above 155 mph.)
According to NOAA, the 30-year average for a hurricane season is 12 named storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes. One critical factor in play: Sometime in September or October, an expectedly weak El Nino weather pattern is expected to form. El Nino’s typically produces stronger than average west-to-east winds, which break up circulating storms before they can develop into tropical storms and hurricanes. So, a weak El Nino usually means more storm circulation, more storm strengthening and more to worry about.
The last Category 5 to slam the U.S. mainland happened 25 years ago this year. For South Florida—and the city of Homestead, south of Miami, in particular—this is a poignant anniversary. In 1992, when Hurricane Andrew made landfall, whipping 165 mph winds across the city, it caused astronomical destruction. Block after block of some neighborhoods were left flattened, leaving just the concrete foundations visible from the air. Sixty-five people died. About 25,000 homes were demolished and another 100,000 were damaged. At the time, it was the country’s most destructive hurricane ever, causing $26 billion in damage and impacting lives for years.
Last year, Hurricane Matthew churned in the Caribbean, at one point becoming a Catetory 5, as it moved north, toward the U.S. East Coast. But first was Haiti. A direct strike. About 800 people died.
As Matthew approached Florida, residents boarded and shuttered their homes, depleted grocery stores, emptied gas stations and many evacuated to the west and north. By the time Matthew made landfall, it had weakened to a Category 2, but still destructive. A part of the A1A coastal highway in Flagler Beach washed into the Atlantic. Daytona Beach, St. Augustine, and the coastal communities near Jacksonville, Florida and up the coast in Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina suffered extensive flooding.
Colorado State University, which also issues annual hurricane outlooks, is forecasting a slightly below average season: 11 named storms, four hurricanes and two major hurricanes.
At HistoryMiami Museum in downtown Miami, a special 25th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew exhibit opens June 1st. It will feature artifacts gathered from survivors, like a wind-ripped American flag found in the rubble, a small house you can stand in and experience what a Cat 5 sounds like, as well as video testimonials of people who lived through it.
At the time, a young Michele Reese lived in Coral Gables with her family. Today, she’s the museum’s marketing director.
“We learned so many lessons from this storm. We had policy changes, we had building code changes,” Reese said. “So the silver lining of the destruction that happened here 25 years ago is that we are all in a much safer and better-prepared way for what’s coming up in the future.”
And that future is just about now. The Atlantic Hurricane Season runs from June 1st to November 31st.
Phil Keating joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in March 2004 and currently serves as FNC's Miami-based correspondent.