The last time a major hurricane hit the U.S. was October 24, 2005. That was almost ten years ago — the country seems to be having a weirdly lucky time avoiding major hurricanes (“major,” here, meaning Category 3 or stronger — to say nothing of Category 1 and 2 storms like Ike and Sandy that surely, by any other means, would qualify as major). But yes, in terms of the really big ones, our landmass has been enjoying a lull from this specific form of meteorological devastation — and no one really knows why.
NPR reports that the last time we went this long without a major hurricane reaching land was back when Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson were in office — from 1861 to 1868. Using that data, scientists say this kind of lucky break only happens every 177 years on average, but that’s not much to go on considering we only have records that go back 164 years.
It’s not for lack of hurricanes, either. Of 25 hurricanes that formed over the Atlantic Ocean, none have reached the U.S., said Phil Klotzbach, Colorado State University researcher. According to him, normally 1 in 3 major hurricanes reach land, which makes going zero for 25 is “extraordinarily lucky.”
Things get weirder when you consider four major hurricanes reached the U.S. in 2005: Dennis, Katrina, Rita, and Wilma. And just 90 miles south of Florida, Cuba has experienced five major hurricanes since then. Weirdly, Florida, sticking out like America’s sore thumb, hasn’t had a single one — not even a little Category 1 or 2 storm!
Science is weird. We know nothing. One researcher from the University of Miami, Brian McNoldy, told NPR that he tried to determine whether climate shifts could be shielding the U.S. from major storms. He analyzed the last nine years of “geopotential height,” which can either steer a storm toward land or back to the sea, and found “a weak ‘trough’ — or an elongated region of low pressure” around the east coast.
“There’s a hint that there has been enhanced troughy-ness over the Eastern U.S.,” said McNoldy.
So there you have it, our best minds at work, using words like “troughy-ness” to explain what the heck is going on in our storm systems.
McNoldy does say that the trough is small, and “on any given day or week,” that statistical deviation could have gone the other way and actually sent a stormtoward the east coast. In the end, he said, it’s all up to chance.
“Hurricanes have no idea what happened last week or last year,” he said. “You could get four major hurricanes one year and then none for the next 15 years or one a year for a while. They have no concept of how long its been since the last one.”