That’s how long it’s been since a “major” hurricane with wind speeds of 111 mph or higher has hit the United States.
The gap is something of a record that has not occurred since the 1870s, according to information compiled by researchers at LSU.
There have been hurricanes that have caused widespread damage such as in 2012 when Hurricane Sandy, a Category 2 storm hit the East Coast, and Hurricane Isaac, a Category 1 storm in Louisiana, but neither storm reached Category 3, 4 or 5 status as measured by wind speed.
For the U.S. Gulf Coast, the longest stretch of no major hurricanes was 12 years, which occurred from 1861 to 1872, but there are some caveats with that number. Populations along the Gulf Coast were spread out and limited in number so storms could go unreported even if they were noticed. In addition, that stretch of time includes the Civil War when the nation’s attention and record keeping were concentrated elsewhere, meteorologists point out.
“That’s old and data may be missing,” said Hal Needham, program manager for the Southern Climate Impacts Planning Program with LSU.
A major hurricane, defined by wind speeds of 111 miles per hour or higher, hasn’t hit the United States since 2005. In that year, there were four major hurricanes that all made landfall at Category 3 wind speeds, although most of them had reached Category 5 wind speeds before reaching land.
The four storms are common talking fodder around the Gulf Coast: Katrina and Rita that hit Louisiana and Dennis and Wilma that hit Florida.
So what’s the significance of this lull in major hurricanes in the United States?
Not much, said Barry Keim, state climatologist.
Causing the weaker storms is likely a combination of weather patterns, steering currents in the atmosphere, dry air that helps hamper storm formation and some good old-fashioned luck, Keim said.
“It’s often many different factors,” Needham said.
But just because they’re weaker storms doesn’t mean they won’t cause damage. Louisiana just has to look back to Hurricane Isaac in 2012, which flooded large parts of south Louisiana with storm surge even though it was a Category 1 storm.
There have been Category 5 hurricanes that have formed in the last nine years, he said, but they just haven’t made landfall in the United States.
Last year, most of the eight named storms that formed stayed out at sea with only one glancing the East Coast and two impacting Central America and Mexico.
“We have a lot of these so-called lucky years” where there may be a number of storms that form but they stay out at sea, Needham said. The most recent example is 2010 when there were 19 named storms that formed, well above the long-term average of 12, but nothing threatened Louisiana.
So will the United States reach a 10th year of no major hurricane landfalls, or will this be the year that luck runs out?
Only time will tell.