The official end of the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season is here. Nov. 30 marks the final day of the season, which officially began on June 1.
It was a busy season as far as the number of storms goes.
There were 19 named storms in 2023. Seven of those became hurricanes, and three of those strengthened to major hurricanes (Category 3 or stronger storms). There was also one unnamed storm, a tropical depression and a potential tropical cyclone, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Here is a preliminary look at 2023′s Atlantic storms:
Most of 2023’s tropical storms stayed out in the Atlantic. This is a preliminary map of the tracks.National Hurricane Center
The storms started early, in mid-January, with a subtropical storm that stayed at sea off the U.S. East Coast and went unnamed until a reanalysis in May.
The first named storm of 2023, Tropical Storm Arlene, got its name on the second day of the season, June 2. Arlene formed in the Gulf of Mexico but was short-lived and didn’t affect land as a named storm.
The first hurricane of 2023 was Don, a Category 1 storm with top winds of 75 mph. Don reached hurricane status, briefly, on June 22 but never affected land.
The last named storm, Tammy, formed on Oct. 18 in the central Atlantic and went on to become a hurricane, dropping rain and wind on some of the Lesser Antilles. Tammy made landfall on the island of Barbuda as a Category 1 storm with 85 mph winds.
THE YEAR’S STRONGEST STORM
But the strongest hurricane of 2023 was Lee, which explosively strengthened and peaked as a Category 5 powerhouse with 165 winds.
Lee weakened, passed west of Bermuda but brushed the island with wind and rain and made landfall on Sept. 16 as a post-tropical storm on Long Island, Nova Scotia, with 70 mph winds.
The United States was hit directly by three storms.
The strongest was major Hurricane Idalia in the Gulf of Mexico. Idalia peaked as a Category 4 hurricane with 130 mph winds on Aug. 30, hours before making landfall. However, the storm weakened slightly and was a top-end Category 3 hurricane with 125 mph winds when it came onshore on Florida’s Gulf Coast near Keaton Beach.
Idalia has been blamed for four deaths in Florida.
There was also Tropical Storm Harold, also in the Gulf. Harold made landfall Aug. 22 on Padre Island, Texas, with 50 mph winds. And finally there was Tropical Storm Ophelia in the western Atlantic. Ophelia made landfall Sept. 23 near Emerald Isle, N.C., with 70 mph winds.
Of the 20 named storms, many were short-lived and stayed out at sea. Other than Idalia, Arlene and Harold, the Gulf of Mexico stayed quiet this year.
No storms threatened Alabama during the 2023 season.
ALABAMA’S GOOD FORTUNE
“Given the total number of storms and hurricanes that we saw across the entire Atlantic, we were fortunate here,” said Jason Beaman, the meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service office in Mobile.
“It was the persistance of the upper-air pattern over the summer which favored an upper-level trough over the eastern United States that really helped keep the storms out to sea, helped to turn the storms while they were out in the Atlantic and didn’t allow for any of the storms to come into the Gulf,” Beaman said.
“When you look at where most of the storms formed this year, they were in the tropical Atlantic and they recurved ahead of that trough.”
El Nino is also to thank for the mostly quiet Gulf.
“We didn’t see hardly any storms develop in the Caribbean this year so we didn’t have as many opportunities for those storms to come north,” Beaman said.
“I think the reason we saw fewer storms in the Gulf and the Caribbean was with a strengthening El Nino that started increasing the wind shear over the Gulf and the Caribbean as you went into the peak of the hurricane season which resulted in less potential for storms to develop.”
A GOOD FORECAST
You can’t call the 2023 hurricane season forecast a bust, though. NOAA’s forecast, last updated in August, suggested there would be 14-21 named storms (there were 20), six to 11 hurricanes (there were seven) and two to five major hurricanes (there were three).
Scientists at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center in an August update increased their prediction for the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season from a near-normal level of activity to an above-normal level of activity.NOAA
One takeaway from 2023 is another reminder not to place too much emphasis on the forecast number of storms for a season.
“Each season is unique,” Beaman said. “The total number of storms, which is a lot of the focus of the outlooks ahead of the season, really only tell us part of the story. You really have to wait and see where they develop and what the atmosphere is doing at that time to determine your threats. … That’s a good reminder for people, because if the upper-level pattern would have been just a bit different, many of those 20 storms could have gotten much closer to the United States of the Gulf of Mexico. Subtle changes can drastically impact how the season unfolds.”
The 2023 season was a battle between two influences — record warm Atlantic waters and El Nino, which tends to reduce the number of storms in the Atlantic.
“I think you see the competing influences of the season, where you had warm water temperatures, which helped fuel an above-normal season for total storms, but wind shear impacts of El Nino developing kept a lot of those storms in check,” Beaman said. “Of those 20 storms that developed, several of those were short-lived. It was interesting to see how those numbers played out.”
So even though Alabama never faced a tropical storm or hurricane doesn’t mean it wasn’t an active season overall.
“You hear a lot of talk about an active season, and then you don’t have a local impact. That doesn’t mean it was a bad forecast. Actually, the forecast for the season was good, it just doesn’t speak to the impacts of where the storms are going to go,” he said.
“It goes back to that mindset of treat each season as its own, be prepared for each season, and don’t get caught up in the outlooks and the numbers all that much. We always say ‘it only takes one.’ It may sound like a cliche at this point, but it really is what our mindset has to be each and every year.”