Monday is the last day of the 2015 hurricane season — a season that saw only one storm in the Gulf of Mexico, the relatively short-lived Tropical Storm Bill that made landfall in Texas shortly after forming.
Not a single storm threatened Louisiana’s shores.
Oddly enough, the first storm of the year — Tropical Storm Ana, which made landfall in South Carolina in early May — occurred almost a month before the official June 1 start of the Atlantic hurricane season.
Early storms typically aren’t cause for much concern because they don’t get too strong, said Barry Keim, the state climatologist. But there are exceptions, including the Category 4 Hurricane Audrey in June of 1957 that devastated southwest Louisiana.
In all, there were 11 named storms this year, four of which became hurricanes and with two of those becoming major hurricanes with winds speeds of 111 mph or higher — roughly the same as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s forecast calling for between six and 11 named storms, with three to six becoming hurricanes and two or fewer developing into Category 3 or higher hurricanes.
The 30-year average is 12 named storms a year, of which six become hurricanes and three major hurricanes.
“The storm that caught the most attention was Hurricane Joaquin,” Keim said.
Initial forecasts called for the storm to hit the East Coast, but that changed and the storm that eventually strengthened to Category 4 stayed offshore.
“That storm did wreak havoc all up and down the East Coast,” Keim said.
Hal Needham, program manager of the Southern Climate Impacts Planning Program at LSU, combined a trip to visit family with some field work as Joaquin lashed at the East Coast — including four days of unusual onshore winds in New Jersey, the longest period of onshore winds for a state that is accustomed to winds blowing from west to east.
Joaquin piled water onto the shore as it headed north. The flooding Needham witnessed occurred while the storm center still was about 800 miles away from land, he said.
The storm gave Needham his first chance to test a phone application that LSU, nonprofits and other universities were trying out to map flooded areas using GPS. “We think that could be really helpful in the future,” he said.
Flooding and coastal erosion were the biggest impacts in the United States in 2015, with only Tropical Storm Ana and Tropical Storm Bill making landfall in the United States. The reasons for the below-average storm creation during this hurricane season included the strengthening El Niñ o weather pattern, which produced strong wind shear and below-average sea surface temperatures that provided less fuel for storm production.
Other strong storms — such as Danny and Erika — formed in the Atlantic Ocean and appeared to be a threat, but the shearing winds caused them to fall apart before making it into the Gulf of Mexico.
The United States has now gone through a decade of hurricane seasons without being hit by a storm with winds of 111 mph or greater — the longest stretch for the Gulf Coast since 1872.
The last two major hurricanes, Katrina and Rita, both in 2005, are ones Louisiana will remember for a very long time.
Since them, however, storms with lesser winds have caused significant damage. Hurricane Sandy battered the East Coast in 2012, and Hurricane Gustav hit Baton Rouge hard in 2008.
But while Louisiana residents can thank the El Niño weather pattern for helping deliver another relatively tame hurricane season, it could bring problems over the winter.
“Right now we’re on track to seeing the second-strongest El Niño on record,” Keim said.
The weather pattern is supposed to be stronger than the El Niño in 1982-1983, which brought widespread flooding to the Southern states. Winters with strong El Niño patterns are typically colder and wetter for Louisiana.
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