This extreme weather for 2017 is going to be the costliest in history. The two huge hurricanes, Harvey and Irma, could have a price tag of nearly $300 billion. That's about 25 percent of all the combined natural disasters in the United States from 1980 until 2017. And this doesn’t include the major wildfires in the West plus all the droughts and floods across the country for this year.
Both Harvey and Irma hit the U.S. coastlines as Category 4s. Over the last 166 years since records have been kept, two Category 4 hurricanes never made landfall in the U.S. in the same year — until this year. After Hurricane Harvey hit Texas with many areas reporting more than 50 inches of rain, Hurricane Irma made landfall in the Florida Keys 16 days later, on Sept. 10 resulting in catastrophic damage over parts of the Sunshine State.
As a result of Irma slamming into Florida with 130-mph winds, you will probably pay more at the grocery store, especially orange juice.
In Jacksonville, the soybean crop was underwater. The city reported about 15 inches of rain and had its worst flooding since the 1860s. The orange groves of Florida were also hit as heavy rains flooded the orange groves and forced growers to pump out standing water to reduce the threat of disease. Oranges were also literally stripped from the trees by the strong winds. In Lakeland County, where many of the orange trees are located, as much as 75 percent of the citrus crop was destroyed. Other counties are reporting losses around 60 percent.
To be classified as a Category 5 hurricane, the strongest, “sustained” winds must be at least 156 miles per hour. Since 1851, there have been 27 Category 4 hurricanes that made landfall in the U.S. Hurricanes this strong are considered to be rare, so imagine the odds of two of them hitting the U.S. in the same year. And hurricane season won’t officially end until Nov. 30. Cliff and I think there’s a chance of another strong hurricane that will threaten the Gulf Coast and the southeastern U.S.
Since 1851, 32 hurricanes have reached Category 5 status. Amazingly enough, only three made landfall in the U.S. as a Category 5. In 2005, Katrina weakened to a Category 3 when it hit New Orleans.
The first Category 5 hurricane to hit was U.S. was the Labor Day hurricane that devastated the Florida Keys and western Florida in early September of 1935. That storm was the most intense hurricane to strike the U.S. coastline. Sustained winds were up to 185 mph, about the same speed as an EF4 tornado. By the way, names for hurricanes did not begin until 1953 when female names were used. Male and female names were adopted for the Atlantic storms in 1979.
The next most intense hurricane was Camille in mid-August of 1969 when the storm made landfall in Mississippi. Hurricane Andrew was the third Category 5 storm that struck the Bahamas and Florida in mid-August of 1992.
Right now, conditions are ripe for the formation of additional strong hurricanes. We don’t have the warmer El Nino, which changes upper-level patterns and often inhibits intense hurricane formation. Ocean waters are warmer than normal from the coast of western Africa, where many storms will form, and across the Atlantic and Caribbean.
In terms of our weather, the smoke briefly returned to our area last week as winds turned around to the northeast, bringing in the smoke from Canada and Montana. And, as I was writing this column late last week, rain was finally expected this week, right on schedule. (Yay!)
Cliff and I think we’ve seen the last of the 90-degree “Sholeh” days for the 2017 season. The summer was a hot one, as there were 34 days at or above 90 degrees. There was one Sholeh day in May, two in June, 14 in July, 15 in August and two days in September in the 90s. We almost had a 35th day as the high on Sept. 12 was 89 degrees. Cliff tells me there were nearly a dozen afternoons with highs in the upper 80s. The normal number of 90-degree days in Coeur d’Alene is 25.
Despite the hot summer, Cliff’s station did not reach the 100-degree mark. The hottest day was on Aug. 23 with a high of 98 degrees. However, some of the outlying areas did manage to top the century mark last month.
This new six-week weather cycle beginning this week should bring us occasional rainfall through the end of October. Then, the next cycle may produce a lot more moisture as we’ll probably flip from the dry to the wet side in this wild pattern of extremes.
We’re already getting questions about this upcoming winter season. It’s still too early to tell, but if ocean temperatures cool down, snowfall totals may go up.
In the meantime, we’ll have to start watching for potential heavy frosts, especially in the outlying regions of Coeur d’Alene. We’re already seeing temperatures in the 30s with even a few upper 20s to the north of Coeur d’Alene. More on that next week.
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