The year of Michael and Florence: 25 interesting facts about the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season

The 2018 Atlantic hurricane season is in the books. It came to a close Friday after producing 15 named storms, eight of which reached hurricane status and two of which went on to become major hurricanes (category 3 or greater). This is slightly above average for the Atlantic. Long-term averages include 11.7 named storms, 6.3 hurricanes and 2.4 major hurricanes, according to NOAA’s Hurricane Research Division data, covering the period since reliable data became available (1966-2017).

In an average year, 1.7 hurricanes and 0.6 major hurricanes make landfall in the United States. Four named storms struck the United States in 2018, including Tropical Storm Alberto, Tropical Storm Gordon, Major Hurricane Florence and Major Hurricane Michael, which devastated the Florida Panhandle coast and caused severe wind damage into southeastern Alabama and southern Georgia.

Here are capsules on each storm and interesting facts about them:

Tropical Storm Alberto got this year’s hurricane season off to an early start. (NOAA)

Alberto (May 25-31) — tropical storm (65 mph): Alberto formed in the western Caribbean Sea, moved northward across the Gulf of Mexico and made landfall on the Florida Gulf Coast May 28. It weakened into a tropical depression soon after landfall and moved northward before finally losing its tropical characteristics over Central Michigan.

  • This was the fourth straight year that at least one named storm occurred before the official start of the hurricane season (June 1).
  • Originally classified as a subtropical storm, Alberto changed to a tropical storm before landfall.
  • Alberto was only the fourth named storm to form in the Gulf of Mexico and the first since 1976. The system in 1976 was not identified in real time, but was added as a subtropical storm after the season.
  • Alberto brought strong winds, high tides and rain to the Panama City area, ruining Memorial Day for many and acting as a prelude for what would happen five months later.

Beryl (July 4-16) — hurricane (80 mph): Beryl formed out in the eastern Atlantic on Independence Day and made a long trek across the ocean, curving off to the north and northeast well before approaching the U.S. mainland. Beryl became a weak hurricane briefly on July 5 and through July 6 before rapidly weakening into a tropical storm and eventually a wave. Beryl then spent the next six days of its journey as a tropical wave before briefly becoming a subtropical storm on July 14. During its time as a wave, Beryl brought heavy rains to Haiti and the Dominican Republic on July 10 when making the northward turn.

  • Beryl was the farthest southeast that a named storm had formed so early in the season.

Chris (July 6-12) — hurricane (105 mph): Tropical Depression Three formed on July 6 off the North Carolina coast. It meandered off the coast of the Carolinas for three days, becoming a hurricane before racing off to the northeast.

  • There have been six storms named Chris in the Atlantic. The 2018 Chris was the strongest of the six.

Debby (Aug. 7-9) — tropical storm (50 mph): Subtropical Storm Debby formed from a nontropical low over the Atlantic. The system became tropical but weakened as it moved northeast over open water.

  • There were a record seven storms in the season that were subtropical at some point during their lives.

Ernesto (Aug. 15-18) — tropical storm (45 mph): Ernesto started out as a subtropical depression as well and remained over the North Atlantic.

  • Ernesto was the third named storm in a row to form north of latitude 30N, which is unusual. The reason? Sea surface temperatures across the main development region of the Atlantic were well below average early in the season.
  • In fact, the zero named storm formations in the Atlantic south of 30N in August was the first time that had happened since 1997.
A damaged gas station is reflected in a puddle after Hurricane Florence hit in Wilmington, North Carolina. (Alex Wroblewski/Bloomberg)

Florence (Aug. 31-Sept. 17) — major hurricane (140 mph): Hurricane Florence caused historic flooding in portions of North Carolina and South Carolina. Several rivers in the Carolinas reached or approached record levels. Several rivers took two to three weeks to fall below flood stage.

  • Florence broke statewide rainfall records for tropical cyclones in both North Carolina (35.93 inches) and South Carolina (23.63 inches).
  • When Florence reached category four status, it marked the fifth straight year that the Atlantic has seen a cat four.

Gordon (Sept. 3-8) — tropical storm (70 mph): On Aug. 30, the National Hurricane Center began monitoring a disturbance over the northwestern Caribbean. By Sept. 2 it was identified as a Potential Tropical Cyclone, and the NHC issued tropical storm watches along the northern Gulf Coast. The tropical storm would make landfall near the Alabama/Mississippi border on Sept. 4 with top winds of 70 mph.

  • Gordon was a prime example of the NHC’s new Potential Tropical Cyclone products, allowing forecasters to issue watches or warnings even before a system is classified.

Helene (Sept. 7-16) — hurricane (110 mph): The powerful wave that would become Helene was evident well before it left the African coast. The developing system impacted the Cape Verde islands before turning north and northeast over the eastern Atlantic. It would go on to impact Ireland and the United Kingdom, but in a weakened state.

  • Helene was the easternmost hurricane to form in the main development region of the Atlantic.
  • Helene would interact with Tropical Storm Joyce in an example of the Fujiwhara effect, an amazing dance in which two tropical cyclones effectively rotate around each other.

Isaac (Sept. 7-15) — hurricane (75 mph): Hurricane Isaac formed in the eastern Atlantic and briefly became a hurricane, but weakened before reaching the Lesser Antilles. The system would dissipate over the Caribbean south of Haiti.

  • There were three hurricanes occurring simultaneously (Florence, Helene and Isaac) on Sept. 10, the 11th time in history.

Joyce (Sept. 12-19) — tropical storm (50 mph): Tropical Storm Joyce formed over the eastern Atlantic and meandered northward, then west and eventually north over the open ocean.

  • For the first time since 2008, the Atlantic had four named storms simultaneously (Florence, Helene, Isaac and Joyce).
  • The five named storms that formed between Sept. 1 and Sept. 12 tied for the most with 1999.

Kirk (Sept. 22-29) — tropical storm (60 mph): Tropical Storm Kirk would have been a classic Cape Verde storm, but cold water and a rapid forward speed caused it to weaken to a wave before regenerating and hitting St. Lucia. The system quickly dissipated over the eastern Caribbean.

  • Kirk became a named storm at 8.3N, one of the lowest formations on record.

Leslie (Sept. 23-Oct. 13) — hurricane (90 mph): Hurricane Leslie meandered around the north central Atlantic for more than two weeks.

  • Leslie was the longest-lived named storm of the season at 16.5 days.
  • Leslie caused tropical storm warnings to be issued for the island of Madeira for the first time in its history.
Incredible destruction from Hurricane Michael at Mexico Beach, Florida. (contributed)

Michael (Oct. 7-12) — major hurricane (155 mph): On Oct. 2, the National Hurricane Center began monitoring the disturbance that would become Major Hurricane Michael while it was over the southwestern Caribbean. The NWS issued the first advisory on the potential tropical cyclone on Saturday, Oct. 6. It became a tropical depression the next morning and strengthened into a tropical storm a few hours later. Michael became a hurricane as it approached the western tip of Cuba. It moved northward over the Gulf of Mexico, became a major hurricane on Oct. 9 and reached category four status at midnight that night. A nightmarish situation developed as the storm continued to intensify right up until landfall at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 10, near Mexico Beach, Florida.

  • Michael was the first category four hurricane to make landfall in the Florida Panhandle.
  • At 919 millibars, Michael was the third-lowest central pressure at landfall for a U.S. hurricane. The 155 mph sustained wind at landfall was the fourth strongest.
  • Michael was the third category four hurricane in the Atlantic in two years. That is the most ever in a two-year span.

Nadine (Oct. 9-13) — tropical storm (65 mph): Nadine remained over the open waters of the eastern Atlantic for its lifetime.

  • Nadine was the easternmost named storm to form so late in the season in the Atlantic.

Oscar (Oct. 27-31) — hurricane (105 mph): Oscar remained over open waters of the central Atlantic.

  • Oscar was the only storm of the season that was not interesting in any way.

Other notes about the season:

  • There were 87.5 named-storm days in 2018. This marks the third straight year that the Atlantic has had 80-plus named-storm days. The last time that happened was 2003-05.
  • NOAA and the Navy launched the most unmanned gliders ever in support of Atlantic hurricane forecasts.

The 2018 season will be remembered as the year of Florence and Michael. All from a season that was originally expected to be below normal.

For more weather news and information from James Spann, Bill Murray and other members of the James Spann team, visit AlabamaWx.

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