EL NIÑO SUPPRESSED HURRICANES
IN 2002 SEASON, NOAA REPORTS
November 25, 2002 — The 2002 Atlantic hurricane season that officially ends Nov. 30, produced only four hurricanes due to a strengthening El Niño, said NOAA hurricane specialists. However, twice the normal number of storm systems (eight) affected the nation, bringing storm surge and severe weather and rain to the nation, including Hurricane Lili, the first land-falling hurricane to strike the United States since the 1999 Hurricane Season. (Click NOAA satellite image for larger view of Hurricane Lili taken at 4:45 p.m. EDT on Oct. 2, 2002. Click here for high resolution version, which is a large file. Please credit “NOAA.”)
"A strengthening El Niño suppressed the numbers of hurricanes and weakened storms," said retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Jack Kelly, director of the NOAA National Weather Service. "Thanks to El Niño's influence, we experienced only four hurricanes—half the number we've seen in typical seasons since 1995," Kelly added.
Overall in 2002, there were 12 named storms, of which four became hurricanes. Hurricanes Lili and Isidore were classified as major (category 3 or higher on the Saffir Simpson hurricane scale). Eight storms (Tropical Storms Bertha, Edouard, Fay and Hanna; and Hurricanes Gustav, Isidore, Kyle and Lili) affected the coastal United States. Hurricane Lili was the only storm to make landfall while still a hurricane. The other 2002 storms were: Tropical Storms Arthur, Cristobal, Dolly and Josephine. (Click NOAA image for larger view of Hurricane Lili taken from inside the eye wall Oct. 2, 2002, at 3:23 p.m. EDT from NOAA's P-3 Orion hurricane hunter aircraft. Click here for high resolution version of this image, which is a large file. Please credit "NOAA.")
Hurricane forecasters at the NOAA Climate Prediction Center, Hurricane Research Division and National Hurricane Center correctly forecast climate conditions, including the El Niño, would reduce the overall hurricane activity this season. The forecast called for seven to 10 tropical storms, of which four to six could develop into hurricanes, with one to three classified as major.
CPC Director Jim Laver noted they correctly predicted El Niño would suppress the season's "overall activity" (based on a complex formula used by the scientists that combines the number of tropical storms, and their duration and intensity). He pointed out, there were two more named tropical storms than the range of 7-10 predicted, but because several named storms were weak, and of short duration they contributed little to the scientific measure of diminished "overall activity." (NOAA aerial photo of Hurricane Isidore taken Thursday, Sept. 19, 2002 at 7:36 p.m. EDT from a NOAA P-3 Orion "hurricane hunter" aircraft at an altitude of 7,000 feet. Click here for high resolution version. Please note that this is a large file. Please credit "NOAA.")
"Gaining a better understanding of the atmospheric conditions controlling seasonal hurricane activity is at the heart of NOAA extended range hurricane outlooks," said Laver. "This is our fifth straight year of issuing accurate outlooks for overall hurricane season activity. But future success depends on more research into how global and regional climate patterns affect Atlantic hurricane activity."
Louisiana, the hardest hit area, was battered by four storms including the powerful Hurricane Lili and Tropical Storm Isidore. The 2002 season's storms caused 9 deaths in the United States and about $900 million in damages. Max Mayfield, director of the NOAA National Hurricane Center, said, "Four storm strikes on Louisiana remind us of the need for preparedness during every hurricane season. It's not the number of storms that counts—it's where they go." (NOAA aerial photo of Hurricane Isidore taken Thursday, Sept. 19, 2002 at 6:37 p.m. EDT from a NOAA P-3 Orion "hurricane hunter" aircraft at an altitude of 7,000 feet. Click here for high resolution version. Please note that this is a large file. Please credit "NOAA.")
Mayfield added, "Tropical storm track forecast accuracy continued to improve this year, due in part to accurate computer forecast models from the NOAA Environmental Modeling Center. The landfall of Hurricane Lili in Louisiana was well forecast nearly three days in advance," he said. "However, intensity forecasts did not capture Lili's rapid weakening (from a Category 4 to a Category 1-2) in the 12 hours before landfall. We are working through the U.S. Weather Research Program to improve intensity forecasting," Mayfield said.
Mayfield also noted the public relied heavily on Internet access for lifesaving information from NOAA this season. "The explosive use of the Internet to convey vital information to the public in near real time has been astonishing," he said. "Between August and September the NHC Web site recorded almost 500 million hits. The peak day for the season was Oct. 3 (Hurricane Lili) when the site recorded 35.9 million hits—doubling the previous record set in 1999 during Hurricane Floyd. We are saving lives thanks to the Internet," Mayfield noted. The NOAA High Performance Computing and Communications Program manages the system.
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