Just average? Deadly Ian dominated 2022 hurricane season, which otherwise was routine

Chad Gillis
Fort Myers News-Press

Thanks to Ian, the 2022 hurricane season will never be erased from the collective memory of Southwest Floridians.

It was one of the most powerful and deadly storms to ever hit Florida. But as this area picks up the pieces and tries to rebuild, at least this year's storm season is over.

Hurricane season starts on June 1 and ends Nov. 30, and this past season was packed from start to finish. 

Tropical Storm Alex formed on June 5, and Hurricane Nicole hit on Nov. 11. Between was deadly Ian. 

Category 4 Hurricane Ian made landfall on Wednesday, Sept. 28 and changed the region forever. 

At least 137 people died statewide, according to the Florida Medical Examiner's Commission.  That includes 61 people killed in Lee County and 10 in Collier.

Retired climate planner Jim Beever said Ian was likely fueled by weather changes. So what could have been a lesser storm hit as a Category 4. 

"I think it was (fueled by climate change)," Beever said. "If you look at the sea temperatures that it went through, that's part of what helped it throttle up. It moved into water temperatures that were very high, and the Gulf of Mexico was hot at the time." 

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Paragliders fly over what remains of the Fort Myers Beach pier as visitors hang out on the Beach on Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022.  The area was slammed by Hurricane Ian almost two months ago.

Some scientists have said hurricanes in the future will be stronger, but some are now also speculating that they will be more frequent in numbers. 

"There are some now that think it's going to be both," Beever said. "Everyone is agreeing there will be more intense storms but some people think there will be more because the National Hurricane Center is generally expanding the season." 

Beever said even Hurricane Nicole was impacted by climate change. 

"I think you can pretty well say the one that hit the East Coast had assistance from global heating, too," Beever said. 

Maria Torres, spokeswoman for the National Hurricane Center in Miami, said the season started off slow, but that it quickly picked up during the peak of the season (August, September and October). 

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Clean up and recovery efforts are still underway almost two months after Hurricane Ian decimated Matlacha.

"It seemed at the beginning it was going to be a slow season, and we didn't have a lot of activity," Torres said. "It was normal, and we didn't see a lot in June and July. But then in August and September, that's our peak and that's what we saw this year. Then Nicole was into November, but overall it stayed within the season's averages." 

The year produced 14 named storms, with eight of those becoming hurricanes (and two of those being Category 3 or higher). 

NOAA earlier this year predicted a range of 14 to 21 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which six to 10 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including three to six major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5; with winds of 111 mph or higher). 

Colorado State University's team of hurricane experts forecasted 19 named storms and nine hurricanes, with four of those becoming a Category 3 or higher system. 

An average hurricane season brings 12 named systems, with six of those becoming hurricanes — and three of those being Category 3 or higher. 

La Nina conditions created weak winds aloft, which creates better conditions for tropical storms and hurricanes. 

The weather phenomenon typically causes drier winters and springs in Florida and shifts the jet stream north of the Sunshine State.

In addition to La Nina, warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico likely also contributed to the number and strength of storms. 

"An enhanced west African monsoon supports stronger African Easterly Waves, which seed many of the strongest and longest lived hurricanes during most seasons," NOAA's prediction from earlier this year reads.

Torres said climate change will be part of the 2022 season review for hurricane experts. That report will likely be available early next year and will take into account any climate change variables. 

"The way in which climate change impacts the strength and frequency of tropical cyclones is a continuous area of study for NOAA scientists," a NOAA site says. 

Connect with this reporter: @ChadEugene on Twitter.