May 10 2013





"Hurricanes Irene and Sandy were just the warm-ups for the East Coast if a prolonged active period has begun, which seems likely."

-Rick Schwartz

Hurricane Season starts in just three weeks and Rick Schwartz who is the author of Hurricanes and the Middle Atlantic States has a dire prediction for residents along the East Coast. Based on historical patterns, the expert on storms that have hit the Middle Atlantic states believes that the region is in a new pattern and that a Cat 2 or Cat 3 storm is not out of the question in the near future.

Here is his most recent column:

Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and Irene in 2011 may well signal the start of an active hurricane cycle for the East Coast. If so, expect multiple Category 2 or stronger hurricane landfalls along the Eastern Seaboard during the next few years.

East Coast hurricane history is tied to decades-long cycles with many notable storms followed by generally longer periods of less frequent severe activity. Less active cycles last about 30 to 50 years and active cycles are generally 25 to 30 years. The first years of active cycles often surprise residents with multiple memorable hurricanes.

Cycles seem to start and end abruptly. Within the cycles are series or clusters of active years, typically three to six, with a quiet year often embedded in the longer series. They occur during active and less active cycles, but they are much more frequent during the former.

Hurricanes Irene and Sandy made landfall in New Jersey as Category 1 storms, the lowest rung on the five level Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. Coastal sections of the Northeast could see something with considerably stronger winds.

2013 marks the 75th anniversary of the Great New England Hurricane of 1938, a Category 3 hurricane with 120 mph winds that struck Long Island, killing 600 residents of New England.

Frequently, two consecutive years of East Coast landfalls signal the start of a series. Since the Weather Service began tracking hurricanes in 1871, every series has included multiple Category 2 or stronger hurricanes reaching the East Coast.

Florida hasn’t had a hurricane landfall along the Atlantic coast since 2005, a remarkable lull considering the more than 100 named North Atlantic tropical cyclones since then. The last Category 2 hurricane to make landfall on the Eastern Seaboard north of Florida was Isabel in 2003. Fran in 1996 was the last Category 3 hurricane to strike north of Florida, and there have been more than 200 named storms since Fran.

Interior sections of the Mid-Atlantic region are due for a “Big One” hurricane wind event.

Hazel in October 1954 was the last tropical cyclone to bring actual hurricane force winds of 74 mph and higher to widespread interior sections of the region. The Category 4 storm made landfall in North Carolina with 140 mph sustained winds before tracking north through Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Its unrelenting fury made for lifetime memories. Hazel set many wind records, including a 78 mph sustained wind in Washington, D.C., and a peak gust of 98 mph. Many sections east of Hazel's track, from North Carolina to New York, experienced hours of hurricane force gusts.

Often when a hurricane packing sustained winds of more than 100 mph makes landfall and is travelling faster than 30 mph, it retains hurricane force gusts for hundreds of miles despite an overland track. Hazel raced through the Northeast at 50 mph.

Inland hurricanes like Hazel have occurred regularly in the Mid-Atlantic region during the past 400 years. At least eight have tracked through Maryland and Virginia, with no interval longer than 58 years. The 2013 hurricane season, June 1 to November 30, is the longest period between Hazel-type events in those states during at least the past 400 years. Each occurred in September or October.

Hurricanes Irene and Sandy were just the warm-ups for the East Coast if a prolonged active period has begun, which seems likely. Many years of little hurricane activity seem to lure residents into complacency. 2013 is not a year for complacency.