Despite Mother Nature getting a little head start on the tropical season with Alberto, we are now officially in hurricane season, which lasts through November 30.
Ocean temperatures are gradually warming, with the peak of the season occurring around September 10th, which is when our ocean temperatures are usually at their highest point as well. Despite the strongest sun angle and strength officially coming in around the summer solstice, there is a bit of a delay for its effects here on Earth. That’s why typically July & August are our warmest months, even though we’re losing daylight. There’s an example to the right in terms of temperature lag in a day, but it’s the same over the season.
The oceans take even longer to respond to this heating, as they peak in temperatures in early September, hence the peak of hurricane season, as these storms are fueled by warm, moist environments. There is a rapidly sharp decline in hurricane activity heading into October and November. Taking over 3 months to ramp up, the downhill is much shorter, only about one month as we progress into the fall months.
While direct hits on New England are uncommon, every 15-20 years, the remnants of storms can be just as, or even more destructive than a direct hit. We all remember Irene in 2011 and Sandy in 2012 (pictured above) as major storm systems to impact New England, and those made landfall well to our south. Wind gusts over 80 mph, drenching rains and even severe weather can accompany the remnants of tropical systems.
Often times, remnants of tropical systems can combine with passing pieces of energy and turn into stronger storm systems, as we experienced in October 2017 right before Halloween (pictured, credit Benjamin Williamson). An area of low pressure picked up as remnants of Tropical Storm Phillippe, morphing into a nor’easter, trudged up the eastern seaboard, bringing torrential rain but incredibly high winds that were sustained over many hours, leading to 1.2 million power outages in New England. Over 400,000 of those were in Maine. Crews from as far away as the Carolinas and Midwest were hauled into the area to help restore power, which took up to 10 days for some. Some remote islands remained with power for 1-3 months.
So while we don’t make the same preparations that southerners do year in and year out awaiting storms from the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean and Atlantic – we should make some as hurricane season begins, especially if you’re on the coastal plain. Typically nor’easters are more destructive to us than tropical systems, but the coastline is well overdue. Reinforcing foundations, having boards to cover windows, knowing the flood plain are all helpful heading into the tropical season. Know where you should evacuate to and have the emergency plans in place. It is extremely important to not wait out storms in a structure prone to flooding, high winds and storm surge. Be sure to contact tree experts or landscapers to prune or take down any vegetation or trees that are near, or could pose a threat to power lines on your property.
The last direct landfall in New England was Hurricane Bob in 1991, which means we are a good 10 years overdue for landfalling storm. Below is the National Hurricane Center outlook for the 2018 season in the Atlantic Basin.