In just one devastating month, Houston, Florida, and the Caribbean were changed forever. In summer 2017, three monster hurricanes swept in from the Atlantic one after another, shattering storm records and killing hundreds of people. First, Harvey brought catastrophic rain and flooding to Houston, causing $125 billion in damage. Less than two weeks later, Irma lashed the Caribbean with 180 mile per hour winds—and left the island of Barbuda uninhabitable.
Hot on Irma’s heels, Maria intensified from a Category 1 to a Category 5 hurricane in just 30 hours, then ravaged Puerto Rico and left millions of people without power. As the planet warms, are these superstorms the new normal? How well can we predict them? And as the U.S. faces the next hurricane season, does it need to prepare for the reality of climate refugees? Rise of the Superstorms takes you inside the 2017 superstorms and the cutting-edge research that will determine how well equipped we are to deal with hurricanes in the future.
Rise of the Superstorms
The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was a hyperactive and catastrophic hurricane season. With a damage total of at least $282.16 billion (USD), it was the costliest season on record, surpassing the previous record holder, the 2005 season. More than 99.7 percent of the season’s damage was due to three of the season’s major hurricanes – Harvey, Maria, and Irma. Another substantial hurricane, Nate, was the worst natural disaster in Costa Rican history; Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Nate had their names retired due to their high damage costs and loss of life. Featuring 17 named storms, 10 hurricanes and 6 major hurricanes, the 2017 season ranks alongside 1936 as the fifth-most active season since records began in 1851.
This season is also one of only six years on record to feature multiple Category 5 hurricanes, and only the second after 2007 to feature two hurricanes making landfall at that intensity. The season also featured both the highest total accumulated cyclone energy (ACE) and the highest number of major hurricanes since 2005. All ten of the season’s hurricanes occurred in a row, the greatest number of consecutive hurricanes in the satellite era, and tied for the greatest number of consecutive hurricanes ever observed in the Atlantic basin since records began in 1851. In addition, this season is the only season on record in which three hurricanes each had an ACE of over 40: Irma, Jose, and Maria.