As mid-October arrives, local hurricane trackers can breathe a little easier as the chances for a hurricane making landfall diminish.
The Atlantic hurricane season does not end until Nov. 30, but historically the probability of any storm stronger than a tropical storm affecting the North Carolina coast greatly decreases.
The sole major hurricane since 1859 to hit in October was Hurricane Hazel, which made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane on Oct. 15, 1954.
Metereologist Michael Ross of the National Weather Service in Wilmington said since the beginning of the official Atlantic hurricane record in 1851, there have been 28 storms affecting North Carolina in the month of June, 34 in July, 101 in August and 142 in September.
“In October, it drops down to 80, and then it drops down to nine in November,” Ross said. “… We’re not quite out of the woods yet, but I know since I’ve been here, I’ve been here 14 years, that generally after October 16 it really ramps down. I can only remember maybe a couple in that 14 years, and they were just tropical storms.”
While the potential is still present, Ross said there is not a high frequency.
New Hanover County Emergency Management Director Warren Lee said late August and into September are the prime times to see a hurricane locally, but cautioned to never say never. Sept. 10 is the climatological peak of the season.
“Who would have thought that Hazel would have hit mid-October and be the strongest one we’ve had?” Lee said. “… My rule of thumb has always been that once we get past Oct. 15, the Hazel anniversary, I kind of breathe a little easier. The likelihood of us having a particularly damaging storm that late in the season is probably diminished after the oceans start cooling down and it seems that fewer and fewer systems are coming off the African coast.”
Ross explained some of the reasoning behind the low activity this Atlantic hurricane season comes from the dust blowing from the Sahara Desert in North Africa.
“The winds blow that dust out over the ocean and this sometimes can decrease the amount of moisture available, which doesn’t allow hurricanes to develop,” he said. “… I’m not an expert, but I know that had something to do with it. We had stuff out there that tried to form and it just went poof as it got into the dry air.”
In August, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reduced May predictions for an above-active Atlantic hurricane season that called for 13 to 19 named storms, including six to nine hurricanes and three to five major hurricanes.
Wrightsville Beach Fire Chief Frank Smith said the preseason hurricane forecast does not have any bearing on town planning.
“It just takes one storm to come where you are and it’s a bad season, so you need to prepare in the same manner,” Smith said. “… Certainly we consider ourselves fortunate to be this late in the season and haven’t had any significant impacts really anywhere on the U.S. coast due to tropical storms or hurricanes this season. But until we’re actually beyond the end of the season in late November, I would just caution everybody to remain vigilant.”