The stroke of midnight this morning closed the record books on yet another quiet hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean. We only saw a handful of newsworthy storms, but the real story is what didn't happen. It's been nine years—3,326 days—since the last major hurricane hit the United States.
This year's hurricane season in the Atlantic was below average overall, only seeing eight named storms, six of which became hurricanes and two of those grew into major hurricanes. Even as the past couple of years have been portrayed as "quiet," this year was the least active hurricane season we've seen since 1997.
The strongest (and only) storm to make landfall in the United States this year was Hurricane Arthur, which formed off the east coast of Florida and passed over North Carolina's Outer Banks over the July 4th weekend. A category two with 100 MPH winds at landfall, Arthur became the strongest storm to strike the United States since 2008's Hurricane Ike hit Texas with 110 MPH winds.
While Ike and Arthur were intense in their own right, Hurricane Wilma was the last major hurricane (category three or higher) to make landfall in the United States. 3,326 days ago, on October 24, 2005, Wilma came ashore on the southwestern coast of Florida with winds of 120 MPH just days after reaching the lowest air pressure (882 millibars) of any tropical cyclone recorded in the western hemisphere.
While it's great that we haven't had to experience a major hurricane in the United States in such a long time, it can also be a curse. When Wilma struck Florida, not only was it the last major hurricane strike in the country, it was the last time a hurricane hit Florida. That's nine long years without a hurricane. Nine years of homes and businesses and schools springing up and people moving in from out-of-state to fill them. Nine years of local government turnover to politicians and officials who have never handled an emergency situation. Nine years for people to "be lulled into a false sense of security and/or forget how horrible hurricanes can be," as the Capital Weather Gang put it back in October.
Residents from Brownsville to Pembroke can exhale and sleep a little easier tonight knowing that we're past the "hot zone" and it's relatively smooth-sailing from now until next summer. This is the perfect time for coastal residents to begin preparing for the next season, even if your supplies will sit and collect dust. That's fine! Draw up some plans on what you'll do in case you have to board up and head out in advance of a storm next year. Gather supplies—personal, medical, edible—and keep them in an easily-accessible place. Canned food and bottled water can sit for a few months without going bad if they're stored properly.
Now is the time to prepare for storms in the future. Even if you think it's too early to do so, think of it as preparing for any type of emergency. Residents in Mobile and Pensacola—two hurricane-prone cities on the Gulf of Mexico—could have used some emergency supplies last January when a freak ice storm shut down almost every roadway and business in the region for three days straight. If you had no food, you were out of luck until the ice melted.
A major hurricane hasn't hit the United States in 3,326 days. That number grows more dangerous the bigger it gets. By the start of the 2015 hurricane season, you will have had nine-and-a-half years to prepare for the next big storm. It will happen someday, and probably sooner rather than later. There is no excuse not to be ready.