Eye on the Sky

A Record Breaker

2020 hurricane season was the busiest in history.

By Paul Wilkerson

Back in the Spring 2020 issue of Times of the Islands (what feels like a lifetime ago), warning was given of the potential for an active season. Everything pointed to prime conditions for fairly frequent tropical activity. What I did not anticipate was the busiest tropical season on record! In fact, the 2020 tropical Atlantic season provided us with many record breaking systems. Let’s take a look back and reflect on what occurred this year.

The 2020 season got off to a blistering start on May 14 with the birth of Arthur. During the period of May to July, a record nine storms formed in the Atlantic.  Tropical Storm Cristobal would be the first of five tropical systems to strike the state of Louisiana during the season, making landfall there on June 7. The first hurricane of the season would be Hanna, which developed on July 19 in the Gulf of Mexico, making landfall in Texas on July 25.

Hurricane Isaias passes over the TCI on July 30, 2020.

The Turks & Caicos Islands would have their closest encounter of the season on July 30, as Hurricane Isaias moved south and southwest of the islands. Isaias wreaked havoc across the Caribbean and the United States, causing an estimated $165 million in damage to the Lesser Antilles, Dominican Republic and The Bahamas. The United States saw nearly $4.5 billion in damages thanks to Isaias. Unfortunately two lives were lost in the Dominican Republic as a result of this hurricane as well. 

Late August through early October would prove to be the most active time period for tropical activity during the 2020 season. Activity historically peaks during the month of September. Unfortunately, this period also coincided with the worst land-falling hurricanes of the season in the United States. Major Hurricane Laura (Catagory 4) came ashore in southwest Louisiana on August 27, causing extensive damage to the lowlands of south Louisiana and the Lake Charles area.

As the season cruised into September, a record ten named storms formed. This also served as the most named storms in any month on record. Thankfully, the majority of the the systems that formed in September stayed out to sea. The exceptions were Hurricane Nana which struck Honduras and Belize, Hurricane Sally which moved through The Bahamas and southeast United States, and Tropical Storm Beta which made landfall along the Texas coast. Louisiana had another date with disaster as Hurricane Delta made landfall on October 9 as a Category 2, at an estimated 15 miles east of where Category 4 Laura earlier struck. Having already been severely damaged during Laura, many of these same areas were further destroyed by Delta.

Five systems formed during the month of October, with Cancun, Mexico being impacted from three tropical systems. Tropical Storm Gamma, Hurricane Delta and Hurricane Zeta all brought heavy rains, damaging winds and flooding to the Mexican peninsula. Hurricane Eta formed on the last day of October and proved to be the most interesting system in terms of track. Eta began near the Windward Islands, then made its way to a landfall in Nicaragua, where it caused severe flooding and killed more than 178 people across Central America. Eta emerged back into the Caribbean Sea and tracked northeast across portions of Cuba before temporarily moving west into the Gulf of Mexico where it impacted the Cayman Islands. Eta would finally make a last turn to the northeast and impact Florida north of Tampa Bay before heading out to sea once again off the east coast of Florida.

November started off with Hurricane Eta still causing issues, followed by the development of Tropical Storm Theta on November 10 and the season’s most powerful hurricane. Category 5 Hurricane Iota formed on November 13 in the Caribbean Sea and became one of the fastest-strengthening hurricanes on record. It made landfall on November 14 as a Category 4 hurricane, a mere 15 miles from where Hurricane Eta made landfall.  This proved to be catastrophic for Nicaragua, as many locations were still suffering terribly from Eta that had hit two weeks prior on the November 3. Severe flooding, mudslides and heavy rainfall again impacted the region, killing at least 54 people. Hurricane Iota would prove to be the last tropical system of the 2020 hurricane season. 

The hurricane season that was 2020 will possibly stand in the record books for many, many years. So many records were broken this season that it is hard to assess them all! Twelve storms hit U.S. shores. Five systems struck Louisiana alone. There were thirteen hurricanes this season, while the average is six. Six major hurricanes formed in 2020, with three being the average per season. A total of thirty named storms was a record. The National Hurricane Center had to utilize the Greek alphabet to name them all for only the second time in history. There were ten named storms formed in September alone, which was a record. The 2020 season will also go down as the fifth consecutive above-normal season.

Wavy seas and a few squalls are about the worst of TCI’s 2020 hurricane season.

For those who call the Turks & Caicos Islands home, I hope you can appreciate just how blessed the Islands are considering what the hurricane season brought this year. Aside from increased wave action, a few squalls from Hurricane Isaias as it passed by and breezy conditions, the TCI survived the worst the Atlantic could throw at the Caribbean this year.

While we don’t know what the 2021 hurricane season has on tap for now, make sure to take the time to assess your hurricane preparedness now, so you will be ready when the season comes around again next year.

Paul Wilkerson is an American meteorologist and tourist who frequents the Turks & Caicos Islands. Along with his wife and two daughters, the Wilkersons stay actively engaged with Islanders throughout the year with his Facebook page Turks and Caicos Islands Weather Info.

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