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2012 Hurricane Season in Review

A look at notable characteristics of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season, and what it may mean for central New Yorkers.
The first day of December marks the close of this year’s hurricane season. It’s impossible to talk about the 2012 season without mentioning Hurricane Sandy, perhaps the most destructive storm to affect the northeast and (as of this writing) the second most economically distressing to the country. But Sandy isn’t the only reason that the 2012 hurricane season will go down in the record books. Several other characteristics of the season are quite noteworthy.

For one thing, we had 19 named storms this year. In records that go back to 1851 there are only two seasons where we’ve seen more than 19 named storms: 2005 (28 named) and 1933 (21 named).

# Named Storms
2012, 2011, 2010, 1969, 1936

Strangely enough, this is the third year in a row that we’ve had 19 named storms. The 2012 season is tied for the third highest amount of named storms with 2011 and 2010 (also tied with the seasons of 1969 and 1936). It’s an odd thing to have three years in a row with such a high amount of tropical activity, in fact, it has never happened before in the records. Looking back through years past, there is no other scenario where 3 consecutive seasons have each had 19 named storms. Meteorologist Jeff Masters calculated the statistics of this situation- the odds of it occurring are once in every 5,800 years.

Despite the high frequency of named storms, intensity was surprisingly low for the majority of the season. Hurricane Michael was the only storm to reach major status with wind speeds of 100mph putting it at Category 3 strength. We haven’t seen that few major hurricanes in the Atlantic since 1997. This was our fifth season in a row where no storm strengthened to Category 5.

So what does this mean for central New Yorkers? Well, there’s no proven link, but for fun I thought I’d take a look at the past seasons with high hurricane activity and see how much snow fell in Syracuse the following winter. Here’s what I came up with:

Active Hurricane Season:
Following Winter’s Snowfall Total:

What we’re left with is a wide spread. Two of the active hurricane seasons (2005 and 1969) are followed up by nearly average amounts of snowfall. Three are rather on the low side (1933, 2011, and 1936). Only one year stands out as having higher – much higher – snow than average, and that of course is the winter of 2010-2011.

As predicted, there really isn’t a correlation between an active hurricane season and the amount of snowfall we see here in the following winter. However, something important to point out is the amount of variability we’re seeing in the data, especially in the more recent years. Of the top 7 active hurricane seasons, 4 have occurred within the past decade. Also within the past decade, we’ve had near-record breaking amounts of seasonal snowfall, bringing in 181.3” during the ‘03-‘04 season and 179” in ’10-’11. We also saw the extreme on the other end of the spectrum last year, with the least amount of snow to fall during the season.

The takeaway? While there may not be a link between an active hurricane season and the amount of snowfall we see here in central New York, the data does nod to an idea of extremes, especially within the last decade. 

To see the 2012 Hurricane Season in motion, click here.

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