Will Florida dodge a major hurricane strike again in 2022? Forecast shows increased risk
Florida hasn't been hit by a major hurricane since October 2018, when Michael's 160-mph gusts devastated Mexico Beach and Tyndall Air Force Base as a historic Category 5 monster.
That was 42 months ago or 3½ years. But a prominent hurricane forecast shows the Sunshine State's streak of good fortune may run out this year.
Odds of a major hurricane striking within 50 miles of Florida in 2022 are 44% amid a busier-than-normal Atlantic season, Colorado State University's Tropical Meteorology Project predicted last week.
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During an average season, CSU forecasters peg the odds of a major hurricane strike within 50 miles of Florida at 29%, based on the 1880-2020 climatological average. So their 2022 outlook represents an ominous 52% increase in those odds.
"In the last couple of years, Florida has generally gotten quote-unquote lucky," said Phil Klotzbach, CSU's lead forecaster and research scientist.
"There have been a lot of storms around. And they've had some impacts. We had impacts from Eta in 2020. And then, certainly some impacts from Elsa, Fred and Mindy," Klotzbach said.
"But they weren't huge impacts. Obviously, Louisiana has been the state that has been kind of ground zero in the last two years," he said.
A major hurricane ranks as Category 3, 4 or 5, packing dangerous sustained winds of 111 mph or greater. The Atlantic hurricane season starts off June 1 and ends Nov. 30.
CSU researchers call for a seventh straight season of above-normal storm activity across the Atlantic. The forecast calls for 19 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher) and nine hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher) this year, including four major hurricanes. More statistics from their initial forecast:
- Odds of a named storm striking Florida: 96% (average season is 86%).
- Odds of a hurricane striking Florida: 75% (average season is 56%).
- Odds of a major hurricane striking the continental United States: 71% (average season is 52%).
- Odds of a major hurricane striking the East Coast, including Florida: 47% (average season is 31%).
Odds of a major hurricane striking the Gulf Coast from the Florida Panhandle westward to Brownsville, Texas: 46% (average season is 30%).
Per NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, the average Atlantic season sees 14 named storms and seven hurricanes, including three major hurricanes. That data is based on the 30-year span from 1991-2020.
The CSU Tropical Meteorology Project will issue forecast updates on June 2, July 7 and Aug. 4.
In a Thursday update, Klotzbach tweeted that NOAA climatologists have reduced the already-low odds of El Niño atmospheric conditions from 10% to 7% from August to October — the peak of hurricane season.
Why is that important? "El Niño typically reduces Atlantic hurricanes via vertical wind shear," Klotzbach said in his tweet.
CSU forecasters also noted that Caribbean and subtropical Atlantic sea-surface temperatures are clocking in warmer than their long-term averages, boosting odds of storm formation.
Florida's major hurricane risk elevated
In an interview, Klotzbach cautioned that hurricane forecasts offer limited geographic accuracy.
"In general, more active seasons have more landfalling hurricanes. But say our forecast is perfect, and we get nine hurricanes. You could get lucky and have zero hit the U.S. — or you could get unlucky and have five hit the U.S.," Klotzbach said.
"Part of the odds of them making landfall is where exactly they form. Because obviously, something formed in the Gulf of Mexico is going to hit somebody. Whereas if a storm forms right off of Africa, oftentimes those just recurve and go out to sea," he said.
"Other times, they can steamroll all the way across like Irma. But the odds of a storm forming right off Africa hitting the U.S. are lower, relatively speaking," he said.
State-by-state chances of a major hurricane strike within 50 miles of its borders this season, according to the CSU report:
- Florida: 44% (up from average 29%).
- Texas: 25% (up from average 16%).
- Louisiana: 23% (up from average 14%).
- Alabama: 13% (up from average 8%).
- South Carolina: 13% (up from average 8%).
"Probabilities in Florida are elevated. One thing I always emphasize: Florida's probabilities are always higher than anyone else's, and that's just because there's a lot of coastline in Florida," Klotzbach said.
"Say you run a hurricane into Mississippi or Alabama. The entire coastline of Alabama is going to feel its impacts, because it's a very small coast," he said.
"Whereas in Florida, if you run a hurricane into the Keys, depending on how it's tracking it may not impact Jacksonville very much, or impact the Panhandle. So that's something to keep in mind when you're looking at probabilities," he said.
The 2021 Atlantic hurricane season ranked as the third most-active on record with 21 named storms and seven hurricanes, including four major hurricanes.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell fielded questions Wednesday during a press conference at the National Hurricane Conference in Orlando. A reporter from Tampa Bay told her most of his friends and neighbors don't take hurricane season seriously "because they think it's just going to miss us again."
"It's a scary mindset to have," Criswell replied.
"Disasters do not discriminate on where they're going to hit. And just because it hasn't hit your neighborhood in recent years, or it keeps steering one way or the other, does not mean that this is not the year that it's going to happen," Criswell said.
"Louisiana has been hit the last several years in a row — but they had many years (since) Katrina when they didn't have a significant impact. And so, we see the same thing around some of the coastal areas of Florida," she said.
"We all have to take it serious. These storms are getting worse. They are getting worse. They're causing more destruction. They are intensifying more rapidly. We're going to have less time to warn people so they can take appropriate measures," she said.
National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham warned conference attendees to heed warnings and properly prepare for smaller storms — not only for Category 3, 4 and 5 major hurricanes.
To illustrate that point, Graham said more hurricane victims have died from carbon monoxide poisoning than from storm surge since 2017.
And since 2010, he said Category 1 hurricanes have caused 185 fatalities and $110 billion dollars in damages.
"There's no such thing as 'just a' Category 1 hurricane," Graham said.