The Atlantic hurricane season of 2017 is unforgettable. The season saw an astounding number of named storms and hurricanes, with an even more startling number of major hurricanes compared to other years. In the end, the season became number 6 on the list of most active Atlantic hurricane seasons on record, occupying the same position as the 1936 season. Consequently, this extremely active storm season also ranks as the most expensive on record.
Atlantic Hurricane Season
The Atlantic hurricane season is the time of year during which tropical cyclones occur in the Atlantic basin. The Atlantic basin is made up of the North Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. The season for tropical cyclones to appear in this region begins June 1st and ends November 30th.
“A tropical cyclone is a rotating, organized system of clouds and thunderstorms that originates over tropical or subtropical waters and has a closed low-level circulation.” In the Atlantic, cyclones are given the following classifications:
- Tropical Depression: A tropical cyclone with maximum sustained winds of 38 mph (33 knots) or less.
- Tropical Storm: A tropical cyclone with maximum sustained winds of 39 to 73 mph (34 to 63 knots).
- Hurricane: A tropical cyclone with maximum sustained winds of 74 mph (64 knots) or higher.
- Major Hurricane: A tropical cyclone with maximum sustained winds of 111 mph (96 knots) or higher, corresponding to a Category 3, 4 or 5 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.
Tropical cyclones become named storms once they reach Tropical Storm status.
The 2017 season has been recorded as one of the most active seasons on record, with 17 named storms; 10 of these became hurricanes and 6 of those were major. It is among only seven seasons on record to see multiple Category 5 hurricanes.
Named Storms of 2017
- Arlene – Tropical Storm
- Bret – Tropical Storm
- Cindy – Tropical Storm
- Don – Tropical Storm
- Emily – Tropical Storm
- Franklin – Category 1
- Gert – Category 2
- Harvey – Category 4
- Irma – Category 5
- Jose – Category 4
- Katia – Category 2
- Lee – Category 3
- Maria – Category 5
- Nate Category 1
- Ophelia – Category 3
- Philippe – Tropical Storm
- Rina – Tropical Storm
The Hurricane Committee of the World Meteorological Organization decided to retire the names Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate because of their high mortality rates and damage costs. The 2017 season ties in second place with the 1955, 1995, and 2004 seasons for number of retired hurricane names after one Atlantic season. Only 2005 trumps this number, sending five storm names into retirement.
The 2017 season ranks as the costliest Atlantic season on record, with a whopping $306.2 billion worth of damages.
The season collectively resulted in 3,364 deaths. This is the most deaths recorded in a single season since 2005.
Top 3 Storms of 2017
Even though there were six major hurricanes in 2017, we will limit our discussion here to the top 3 – Harvey, Irma, and Maria.
Hurricane Harvey was the first of the six major storms to hit in the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season. In August, the category 4 Harvey made its landfall in Texas and Louisiana. This made Harvey the first major storm since Wilma (2005) to make landfall in the United States. It lasted four days.
What followed was a devastating flood that swept more than 100 people to their deaths and displaced 30,000 others. Causing $125 billion (USD) in damages, it remains the second costliest tropical storm on record to date, just behind Hurricane Katrina. Most of the damage incurred was a result of the accompanying torrential rainfall. It flooded most of the Houston metropolitan area and Southeast Texas.
Areas affected included: the Southern and Eastern United States (mostly Texas and Louisiana), Cayman Islands, Yucatán Peninsula, Suriname, Windward Islands, Guyana, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Belize.
The deadly Category 5 Maria that formed on September 16 did not dissipate until October 2nd. It’s well known as the tropical storm that devastated the northeastern Caribbean, especially Puerto Rico, Saint Croix, and Dominica. Similar to Irma and the Leeward Islands, Maria was the first Category 5 to directly hit Dominica. It was also the strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico since 1928. Maria is considered to be the most disastrous natural disaster ever seen in these islands.
Other affected areas included the Turks and Caicos Islands, the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, the Lesser Antilles (mostly the U.S. Virgin Islands), the Southeastern United States, and Mid-Atlantic states.
The losses caused by Maria are estimated to stand at $91.61 billion (USD), making it the third-costliest hurricane. Of the top 3 hurricanes that year, Maria was the deadliest, with a death toll of over 2,900.
The long-lasting and extremely powerful Hurricane Irma was the first Category 5 hurricane to hit in the 2017 storm season. It was the ninth named storm, fourth hurricane, and second major hurricane recorded that year.
It swept through Cape Verde in September, leaving widespread destruction in its path. Hurricane Irma became the first-ever Category 5 tropical cyclone to hit the Leeward Islands; although Maria was the second cyclone to do so, quickly following Irma by 14 days.
Hurricane Irma resulted in the deaths of over 130 people and summed up to $77.16 billion (USD) in damages. The areas that were affected included the Eastern United States (especially Florida), the Greater Antilles (Cuba and Puerto Rico), Jamaica, the Bahamas, the Leeward Islands (mostly Barbuda, Saint Barthélemy, Anguilla, Saint Martin, and the Virgin Islands), Turks and Caicos Islands, and Cape Verde.
Surviving Irma: Real World Experiences
We interviewed two of our own Florida based writers that both survived Irma in different ways. One of our authors evacuated, while the other hunkered down. Here is how their experiences differed.
Q: What was traffic like while evacuating?
ES: The traffic wasn’t that bad, we took backroads whenever possible; however, on the way back, we did pass several downed power lines in flooded areas that felt rather sketchy.
Q: What was the fuel situation like?
ES: Gas stations were backed up, but we were prepared. Our tank was full so when we did have to fill up we were ahead of the pack.
Q: Did you stay in a hotel or with family?
ES: We stayed in a hotel, which was packed. The hotel was over occupancy with people were sleeping in the lobby.
Q: Were hotel costs high?
ES: The Hotel held their fair pricing. They did not participate in any price gouging tactics.
Q: What did it teach you about your Family Evacuation Plan?
ES: Not to evacuate. I know that is not blanket advice, but it was the first and last time I will do it. I have hurricane shutters and am not in a flood zone. Being out in the ‘wild’ was much more dangerous.
Q: How was your house when you got back?
ES: The house was fine when we returned, outside of some common debris.
Q: Did your home area lose power?
ES: We did lose power. We had one night without power after we returned. It made me wish we had stayed to deal with any potential damage and catering to the power outage.
Q: Do you have any last comments?
ES: Once again, I would not suggest someone in the 5th ward hunker down, but for me it will always be the case moving forward.
Hunker Down Survivor
Q: What did your hunker-down situation look like?
HDS: My partner and I brought our 3 cats, my Mom and my 11-year old brother to my partner’s Dad’s house. His house was a block house situated in a no-flood zone, so it was pretty much the safest place we could be. We were there for 3 days so I think by the end, we were all a little stir-crazy but we never felt unsafe. It only got a little nerve-wracking the night the storm came through because the wind was so loud and kept shaking the windows.
Q: Did you guys loose power? For how long?
HDS: Yes, the neighborhood lost power for somewhere between 24-36 hours but we had a generator that kept the lights and refrigerator on until power was restored.
Q: Were you guys prepared with supplies? Or did you encounter empty shelves at the store?
HDS: The shelves were definitely empty, but we prepared ahead of time and had plenty of food and water, the generator and a hand-crank radio.
Q: How did this help you with future hurricane plans?
HDS: I honestly don’t feel that we could have been more prepared. We never went hungry or thirsty. We always had news playing on the TV or the hand-crank radio. We had plenty of power banks to keep our devices charged. The generator really was a lifesaver though, so I definitely recommend everyone have one at home.
Q: What did you guys do to pass the time?
HDS: We spent the first day talking and staying updated on all the weather advisories. We didn’t sleep well the first night because we were anxious waiting for Irma and then when she came through in the middle of the night, she kept us awake. So, the second day we all slept in and then we played some games. Luckily, by the late afternoon, the weather was nice enough to go out and check for damage and clean up debris. We only stayed because our condo didn’t have power. We left once we were told it was back on. Our condo went unscathed.
Hurricanes have a long and tortuous global history. Statistically, they are the most devastating natural disasters. Luckily, we have not yet seen a storm season that holds a candle to 2017’s level of destruction. We have also been able to learn from our mistakes and been able to better prepare for hurricanes, whether it’s been in regards to family preparedness and survival, infrastructure design or governmental policies and procedures.