Irene is the only hurricane to hit the U.S. coast year. It is the first hurricane to make landfall in the United States since 2008. Fortunately, it was downgraded to a Category 2 prior to making landfall in North Carolina on Aug. 27.
This map shows the 19 tropical storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes that formed in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico from June 1 to Nov. 29, 2011.
The 2011 Atlantic basin hurricane season ended with little fanfare Nov. 30 as forecasters kept an eye on one last potential system out in the Atlantic.
The system had a slim chance of developing and forecasters announced Wednesday afternoon that the last tropical outlook of the season had been released.
Nineteen tropical storms formed this year – the third highest total since recordkeeping began in 1851. The 2011 season tied with the years 1887, 1995 and 2010. The 2011 season made history as the first year ever that none of the first eight tropical storms reached hurricane status.
The long-term seasonal average, 1944-2010, is 11 named storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes, Category 3, 4 or 5. Six hurricanes and three major hurricanes formed in 2011.
Of the three major hurricanes that formed this year, Irene was the only one to hit the U.S. coast. It was the first hurricane to make landfall in the United States since 2008. Fortunately, it lost some of its strength and was only a Category 2 hurricane prior to making landfall. Officials said it was the “most significant” to strike the northeast since Hurricane Bob in 1991.
“Irene broke the ‘hurricane amnesia’ that can develop when so much time lapses between landfalling storms,” said Jack Hayes, Ph.D., director of NOAA’s National Weather Service. “This season is a reminder that storms can hit any part of our coast and that all regions need to be prepared each and every season.”
The last major hurricane to hit the U.S. coast was Wilma, which made landfall very near Cape Romano, Fla., about 20 miles west of Everglades City, at 6:30 a.m. Oct. 24, 2005. Maximum sustained winds were estimated to be 125 mph - a strong Category 3.
Irene was the most destructive and deadly of all 2011 storms. Fifty-five deaths in the United States and Caribbean were attributed to Irene, as was most of the season’s $10 billion in damages. Irene was the first hurricane to make landfall on the coast of New Jersey in 108 years.
Other significant 2011 storms include Hurricane Katia, which caused severe weather in Northern Ireland and Scotland and power blackouts as far east as Saint Petersburg in Russia. Tropical Storm Lee caused major flooding in Pennsylvania, New York and into the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario. The strongest storm of the season was Ophelia, which reached category four strength in the Atlantic Ocean east of Bermuda.
“Although the 2011 hurricane season has ended, our need to prepare for disasters hasn't,” said Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “Being prepared for all kinds of hazards, from hurricanes to blizzards to tornadoes, is a year-round activity. We encourage all members of the team, especially the public, to continue to prepare for emergencies by staying informed of forecasted weather events, making an emergency plan, and building your emergency preparedness kit. Visit Ready.gov to learn more.”
Pinellas County Emergency Management offers some advice for residents during the off-season, beginning with taking stock of the food in the hurricane kit. Nonperishable food has an expiration date. Food nearing its expiration date should be used or donated to a local food bank. Look for sales during the winter and spring to restock supplies with fresh items.
Batteries are another item that needs to stay fresh. Officials advise using the batteries from hurricane kits to power battery-operated toys and gadgets that are popular gifts during the holiday season. Same with food, watch for sales to replenish your stockpile.
Another timely idea is to update emergency contact lists while sending out holiday cards to family and friends to make sure you have the most current phone numbers and email addresses.
County officials remind residents that hurricanes aren’t the only disasters that might affect them. Preparedness is important year-round, they say. Emergency Management’s website offers preparedness information for hurricanes, tornadoes, pandemic influenza and other natural and man-made hazards. Visit www.pinellascounty.org/emergency for more information.
One last bit of advice county officials have to offer is a suggestion for a holiday gift that would be perfect to give to yourself, family or friends. A weather alert radio is something for everyone. It gives an immediate warning when the National Weather Service in Ruskin detects hazardous weather.
Officials advise residents to look for a model that has “specify area message encoding,” or SAME, which provides only alerts for Pinellas County. The radios give maximum warning time, allowing residents the most advanced notice.
2011 Atlantic basin hurricane-season summary
Hurricane season for the Atlantic basin begins June 1. On average one tropical storm forms every other year during that first month. This year, 2011, was one of those years. Tropical Storm Arlene formed June 29 and made landfall along the coast of Mexico June 30.
Three named storms formed in July – well above the long-term average of one.
Tropical Storm Bret formed July 17 off the eastern coast of Florida. The storm never came close to land, tracking north and east before disintegrating over the Atlantic Ocean July 22. Tropical Storm Cindy from July 20 well offshore in the eastern Atlantic and was never a threat to land. It became a post-tropical storm on July 23. Tropical Storm Don formed July 27 about 190 miles north of Cozumel Mexico. It fell apart as it came ashore the coast of Texas near Baffin Bay July 29.
August was the busiest month with a tropical depression and seven named storms, including Irene, which became the season’s first hurricane and first major hurricane.
Emily formed Aug. 1 about 50 miles west-southwest of Dominica. The storm degenerated into a tropical low Aug. 4. Tropical Storm Franklin formed about 460 miles north-northeast of Bermuda early in the morning of Aug. 13. By end of day, the NHC announced it had lost its tropical characteristics. It was never a threat to land, remaining over the northern Atlantic Ocean.
Tropical Storm Gert formed Aug. 14 about 275 miles south-southeast of Bermuda. Two days later, Gert had degenerated into a post-tropical low. Tropical Storm Harvey formed Friday, Aug. 19, about 285 miles east-southeast of Belize City and made landfall near Dangriga Town, Belize on Saturday afternoon. Maximum sustained winds were 40 mph.
Hurricane Irene formed Aug. 20 east of the Leeward Islands about 190 miles east of Dominica. Irene was the ninth named storm of the season and the first hurricane and major hurricane. It is the first to hit the United States since 2008. Irene made landfall twice along the U.S. East Coast - first in North Carolina on Aug. 27 and again the next day in New Jersey. Irene is blamed for as many as 55 deaths and billions of dollars in damage.
Tropical Storm Jose formed Aug. 28 in the eastern Atlantic while Irene was making its way along the Atlantic Seaboard. Jose skirted to the west of Bermuda before heading off into the open waters.
Katia formed Aug. 29 about 535 miles west-southwest of the southernmost Cape Verde Islands. The NHC tracked its path until Sept. 10 when it went post-tropical about 295 miles east-southeast of Cape Race Newfoundland. Katia was the second hurricane and second major hurricane of the season. It followed a similar path to Irene, only remaining offshore, traveling through the Atlantic between the U.S. East Coast and Bermuda.
Tropical Storm Lee formed Sept. 2 south of Louisiana and made landfall over south-central Louisiana Sept. 4. Lee created problems for residents of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle over the Labor Day weekend before moving on to bring rain and winds to residents still cleaning up from Hurricane Irene. The red flags waved on Pinellas County beaches due to rip current dangers as Lee kicked up large waves in the Gulf of Mexico. Lee was the first tropical storm to made landfall in Louisiana since Hurricane Gustav in 2008.
Maria began as Tropical Depression 14 the afternoon of Sept. 6 and became a tropical storm on Sept. 7. It was located about 1,220 miles west of the Cape Verde Islands. Maria followed a similar path to Hurricane Katia, moving offshore the U.S. East Coast and Bermuda. It became a hurricane on Sept. 15 and was a post-tropical cyclone by Sept. 16.
Nate, the 14th named storm, formed Sept. 7 in the Bay Campeche. Nate made landfall Sept. 11 along the coast of Mexico just north of Barra de Nautla. Ophelia formed Sept. 20 in the central tropical Atlantic and degenerated into a remnant low on Sept 25, before becoming the fourth hurricane of the season and the third major hurricane.
Philippe – the season’s 16th named storm, formed Sept. 24, following in Ophelia’s wake. The storm became a hurricane Oct. 8 before becoming post-tropical Oct. 9.
Rina formed Oct. 23 and became a hurricane – the sixth and final of 2011 - Oct. 24. Rina passed near the Yucatan Peninsula before being downgraded to a depression Oct. 28. Sean formed Nov. 8 and was the final and 19th tropical system and the eighteenth named storm of the 2011 season. It passed near Bermuda Nov. 11 and became extra-tropical the next day.
NOAA will issue its initial outlook for the 2012 hurricane season in May just prior to the official start of the season on June 1.