2007 hurricane season fades away
First, the season's stats: We saw 14 named storms - Andrea through Noel. There were eight tropical storms that got no stronger than that, and five others that became hurricanes: Dean, Felix, Humberto, Lorenzo and Noel. In addition, there was one sub-tropical storm in May that jumped the season's official start on June 1, and two tropical depressions that never got organized well enough to spin up and win a name.
Of the five hurricanes that did form, two became "major" storms of Category 3 or higher. Those were whoppers. Hurricanes Dean in August, and Felix in early September, both reached Cat. 5 status and made landfall with winds over 160 mph. Dean was the 9th most intense Atlantic storm on record, and the third-most intense at landfall. It was only the second time since 1961 that more than one Cat. 5 storm formed in one season. The last time was in 2005, when four storms got that powerful, including Katrina.
Dean and Felix killed at least 175 people and caused billions of dollars in damage. Had they not struck sparsely populated regions of Mexico, Nicaragua and Honduras they surely would have done far more damage.
But after that, the season was remarkably tame. Hurricanes Humberto, Lorenzo and Noel never strengthened beyond Cat. 1. Even so, Noel killed more than 150 people due to flooding and mudslides on Hispaniola early this month before prowling up the Florida coast, kicking up the surf. But he never made landfall.
So how did the forecasters do?
The NOAA forecasters last May predicted the 2007 season would generate 13 to 17 named storms before scaling that back slightly in August. Not bad. But they said 7 to 10 would become hurricanes, and 3 to 5 of those would reach Cat. 3, overshooting the actual experience (5 and 2) on both counts.
The famed team of Phil Klotzbach and William Gray at Colorado State University predicted in April the season would produce 17 named storms, including 9 hurricanes, of which 5 would reach Cat. 3. So they overshot the mark, too. They, too, were compelled to scale back their forecast as the season wore on.
Both groups had predicted an "active" season compared with the long-term averages. As it turned out, 2007 (at 14 names storms, 5 hurricanes and 2 Cat. 3 storms) was very close to an average season (11, 6 and 2).
That should come as a relief. But clearly we have a lot to learn about hurricane forecasting.