A Climatology of Intense (or Major) Atlantic Hurricanes

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  • 1 Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado
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Abstract

The variability of intense (or major) hurricanes in the Atlantic basin is investigated on both intraseasonal and interannual time scales. Differences are highlighted in characteristics between intense hurricanes and the weaker minor hurricanes and tropical storms. Intense hurricanes show a much more peaked annual cycle than do weaker tropical cyclones. Ninety-five percent of all intense hurricane activity occurs during August to October. In addition, over 80% of all intense hurricanes originate from African easterly waves, a much higher proportion than is observed for weaker cyclones. Of all classes of Atlantic basin tropical cyclones, the intense hurricanes display the greatest year-to-year variability. The incidence of intense hurricanes also has decreased during the last two decades. A small portion of this decreased activity appears to be due to an overestimation of hurricane intensity during the period spanning the 1940s through the 1960s. After adjusting for this bias, however, a substantial downward trend in intense hurricane activity during recent years is still apparent. Given that intense hurricanes are responsible for more than 70% of all destruction caused by tropical cyclones in the United States, an understanding is needed of the physical mechanisms for these observed variations of intense hurricane activity.

Abstract

The variability of intense (or major) hurricanes in the Atlantic basin is investigated on both intraseasonal and interannual time scales. Differences are highlighted in characteristics between intense hurricanes and the weaker minor hurricanes and tropical storms. Intense hurricanes show a much more peaked annual cycle than do weaker tropical cyclones. Ninety-five percent of all intense hurricane activity occurs during August to October. In addition, over 80% of all intense hurricanes originate from African easterly waves, a much higher proportion than is observed for weaker cyclones. Of all classes of Atlantic basin tropical cyclones, the intense hurricanes display the greatest year-to-year variability. The incidence of intense hurricanes also has decreased during the last two decades. A small portion of this decreased activity appears to be due to an overestimation of hurricane intensity during the period spanning the 1940s through the 1960s. After adjusting for this bias, however, a substantial downward trend in intense hurricane activity during recent years is still apparent. Given that intense hurricanes are responsible for more than 70% of all destruction caused by tropical cyclones in the United States, an understanding is needed of the physical mechanisms for these observed variations of intense hurricane activity.

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