Why was this hurricane season so active? 

Valeree Del Guidice

Irma did damage to the Physical Facilities building. Photo by Ronnesha Rodgers

With Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose, Lee, Maria, and Ophelia achieving major hurricane status in the 2017 season, which ends on Nov. 30, one would think this season is more active than normal. But, that is not true, according to UNF professor Ron Nelson.

“The hurricane season[s] the last few years [have] been [less active] because they were El Nino years, and it’s been shown that anytime there’s an El Nino event going on that the hurricane season in the Atlantic is cut back,” Professor Nelson said.

He also thinks that the 2017 hurricane season “was not [more] active than any season… [he’s] seen in the last 20 or 30 years.”

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an El Nino event is when the surface of the ocean rises in temperature over the central Pacific near the Equator.

The event mainly occurs during the winter months in North America. This causes a rise in temperatures in North America as well as wet and dry conditions across the southern United States. It can take place within a two to seven year time span.

Fences were knocked down during Irma. Photo by Pierce Turner

The opposite of an El Nino event is a La Nina event. A La Nina event has cooler ocean surface temperatures around the “east-central Equatorial Pacific.” Because of the reversal, it becomes hotter in the Southeast and colder in the Northwest. This means hurricanes can more easily form during La Nina events because of the warmer water in the Southeast. Hurricanes use warm water as fuel to become stronger.

Professor Nelson further explains that El Nino and La Nina events have “been going on for at least the last five to six thousand years that [scientists] know of.”

He then mentions Dr. William Gray, former professor of tropical meteorology at Colorado State University, and his idea of stronger storms being caused by more subtropical moisture coming off the coast of Africa. He offered this as an alternative explanation as to why there were multiple major hurricanes this year.

When asked about what made a season more active than normal, Professor Nelson had this to say.

“Well if I knew that, I wouldn’t be teaching in school. I’d be making a lot of money someplace else,” Nelson said.


For more information or news tips, or if you see an error in this story or have any compliments or concerns, contact [email protected].