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It’s been 9 years since a major hurricane hit the U.S. Is it just luck?

Hurricane Katrina, seen here as a Category 5 storm, was one of the last major hurricanes to make landfall in the U.S. back in 2005.
Hurricane Katrina, seen here as a Category 5 storm, was one of the last major hurricanes to make landfall in the U.S. back in 2005. NOAA

TORONTO – When we think about hurricanes, we likely think of major ones like Katrina devastating the southern United States. But Katrina was more than 9 years ago. There hasn’t been a major hurricane — Category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson scale — to strike the U.S. since 2005, the year of Katrina.

A new NASA study is providing insight into that statistic: It’s luck.

The Saffiir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale
The Saffir-Simpson scale

The study concluded that a run of nine years with no major hurricane making landfall in the U.S. comes along just once every 177 years.

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The 2005 Atlantic hurricane season was the most active on record, with 28 named storms. But since then, the hurricane seasons have been rather tame. That’s not to say there haven’t been any major hurricanes since 2005 — there have. The 2014 hurricane season saw two major hurricanes. It’s just that none of them made it to the United States.

While we may remember Hurricane Sandy as a particularly devastating hurricane, it didn’t make landfall as a major hurricane.

The last seven-year stretch with no hurricanes was 1861 to 1868.

The study was conducted by Timothy Hall, research scientist who studies hurricanes at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and Kelly Hereid from ACE Tempest Re, a reinsurance firm. Running a statistical model based on Atlantic hurricane data from 1950 to 2012, and incorporating sea surface temperature data, they ran 1,000 computer simulations essentially creating 63,000 separate Atlantic hurricane seasons.

The 2005 Atlantic hurricane season was the most active on record with 28 named storms.
The 2005 Atlantic hurricane season was the most active on record with 28 named storms. National Hurricane Center

Though records on hurricanes go back to 1850, the data isn’t as particularly complete which is why they started with data from 1950.

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“The last nine hurricane seasons were not weak – storms just didn’t hit the U.S.,” Hall said.

“It seems to be an accident of geography — random good luck.”

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So will the dry period continue?

That’s anyone’s guess, though with the El Nino forecast to be strong, it’s likely that there will be fewer hurricanes this season, which might bode well for a 10-year record.

The streak coupled with the fact that 2005 was such an active year, illustrates the uncertainty of warming global temperatures and their influence on the hurricane seasons.

The study was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

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