We’re just a few days from the end of the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season. This year will go down as one of the most active seasons on record, and a few of the storms we saw this year broke records in their own right. Whether it was record rainfall from Hurricane Barry or a surprising scale-topper in the far eastern Atlantic, this was a hurricane season we won’t soon forget.
1) Fourth Most Active Season On Record
The average Atlantic hurricane season sees 12 named storms, 6 hurricanes, and 3 of those hurricanes becoming a major hurricane with winds of a category three or higher.
Hurricane season ends on November 30. Assuming we don’t see any post-season storms form in December, this year will end with 18 named storms, 6 hurricanes, and 3 major hurricanes. Most of the named storms we saw this year were weaker and disorganized. A weak and disheveled storm is still a storm, though, and this year’s 18 named storms ties with 1969 as the fourth most active season on record.
2) Record May Storms
Even though the official start to hurricane season isn’t until June 1, this year saw the formation of a named storm during the month of May. This was a record fifth consecutive hurricane season that saw a tropical cyclone form before June 1. Subtropical Storm Andrea formed southwest of Bermuda on May 20, existing as a weak storm for less than 24 hours before it fell apart. We didn’t see our next named storm until Hurricane Barry at the beginning of July.
3) Hurricane Barry’s Historic Rains
Hurricane Barry was an early-season hurricane that formed from unusual roots. The disturbance that would become Hurricane Barry formed from a complex of thunderstorms over the Midwest. The system moved south through Georgia and emerged in the Gulf of Mexico, where it would slowly organize into a hurricane as it hooked north toward Louisiana.
While Barry didn’t look like a classic hurricane, the storm brought a deluge of tropical moisture inland. Flash flooding occurred as a result of rainfall totals climbing over a foot in parts of the Mid-South. One particular band of training thunderstorms produced 16.59” of rain in southwestern Arkansas, which was the most rain ever recorded from a tropical cyclone in the state.
According to the Weather Prediction Center’s records, this is the fifth time we’ve seen a state’s all-time tropical cyclone rainfall record broken in the last three years. In 2018, Hurricane Florence broke the tropical cyclone rainfall record for North Carolina (35.93”) and South Carolina (23.63”), and Hurricane Lane broke Hawaii’s record with 58.00” of rain. Hurricane Harvey was both Texas’ and the United States’ all-time wettest tropical cyclone on record, producing an incredible 60.58” of rain in Nederland, Texas.
While it didn’t break an all-time record, it’s worth noting that September’s Tropical Storm Imelda was the seventh-wettest tropical cyclone on record in the United States. The storm produced 43.15” of rain near Beaumont, Texas, which surpassed even the highest rainfall amount recorded during Tropical Storm Allison in 2001.
4) Hurricane Dorian’s Slow Crawl
Hurricane Dorian was one of the most intense storms ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean. The category five hurricane reached its peak strength of 185 MPH just as it began to move across the northern islands of The Bahamas. Dorian moved incredibly slow—crawling just a few dozen miles in a day—and its intense winds raked across the island of Grand Bahama for more than 24 hours before the core of the hurricane began to lift north. It’s likely that Grand Bahama experienced some of the most extreme weather conditions ever encountered on populated land.
5) Hurricane Lorenzo’s Record Eastern Strengthening
Hurricane Lorenzo wasn’t the likeliest candidate for rapid strengthening in the Atlantic Ocean. Part of the reason scale-topping hurricanes are so memorable is that it’s rare to see such a strong hurricane in this part of the world. We’ve only recorded a few dozen category five hurricanes since reliable records began in the mid-1800s. None of them formed where Lorenzo formed.
Hurricane Lorenzo was the farthest east we’ve ever seen a category five hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean. This storm maxed-out the hurricane wind scale well east of where these storms normally reach peak strength.
6) Hurricane Pablo’s Record Eastern Formation
Just one month later, another storm broke a location record. Pablo reached hurricane strength at 42.8° N, 18.3° W, which is the farthest east—and second-farthest north—we’ve ever recorded the formation of a hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean. This put the newly formed hurricane northeast the Azores Islands, far away from the tropics and in relatively cool ocean waters.
Pablo managed to become a hurricane in such an unusual place because very cold air in the upper-levels of the atmosphere aided thunderstorm development around the core of the storm. Normally, warm water temperatures drive the formation of thunderstorms in a hurricane. Cold temperatures in the upper-levels can help a storm form and strengthen in an area where waters aren’t warm enough to get the job done alone.