Does an early start to hurricane season mean anything?

Tropical Storm Arthur courtesy CNN

Tropical Storm Arthur said hello over the weekend, starting our hurricane season -- once again -- before the official June 1 date. In fact, the last six seasons have had something tropical stir up before the official start.

I like data, and so I looked at this century, 2000-2020, and came up with 11 of those 21 years showing early tropical formations: 2003, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2012, 2015-2020. So there are two obvious questions:

Does an early start mean we’ll have a shorter season?

Apparently not.

In 2003, we had an April system show up and the season didn’t end that year until December 11th. In 2007, we started 5/9 and ended 12/14, but in 2012 we started on May 19th and ended October 29th.

Most of these early starts have seasonable ends like any other year -- some a little early and some a little late (official end is Nov. 30). FYI, for Texas, we’ve never been hit by a tropical storm or hurricane later than October 15/16 (Jerry in 1989), so our season usually quiets down in early October when the winds off the Rockies finally kick in our first cold fronts.

Hurricane Jerry October 1989, our latest hurricane to strike the Texas coast

Does an early start mean we’ll have more hurricanes?

Again, not necessarily.

In 2005, the Katrina/Rita year, we had 31 tropical depressions, 28 storms and seven hurricanes (five of them Category 5). And that year didn’t start until June 8. Of course, it didn’t end until January! In 2009, with an early start of May 28, we had only nine storms and three hurricanes. Busy years are more about warm water and light winds than start dates.

What can we learn from an early start?

Other than it’s time to prepare, not really. I averaged out the past 20 years and we’ve been seeing 17 tropical depressions, 15 of those becoming tropical storms and seven becoming hurricanes (3-4 major). And if you look at the various forecasts coming out this year, that is generally what is being predicted -- above average.

No matter that it has already started.


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About the Author:

KPRC 2's chief meteorologist with three decades of experience forecasting Houston's weather.