Despite an active hurricane year across the Atlantic and Caribbean, it was a relatively quiet year for most of Florida.
Storms either went elsewhere or skirted the edge of the state—something unexpected for many Floridians. During the last extremely active year of 2005, Floridians were hit with three major hurricanes: Dennis, Katrina and Wilma.
A few storms did flirt with the Florida coast. In July, a tropical area of disturbed weather moved across the Panhandle, later becoming Tropical Storm Fay off the Carolinas. In early August, Tropical Storm Isaias passed east of Florida, bringing gusty winds and heavy rain as it paralleled the coast and took aim at North Carolina, where it made landfall as a hurricane.
Not until mid-September—the statistical peak of hurricane season—did Florida see its first major threat. Hurricane Sally was one of the first storms to rapidly intensify in the Gulf of Mexico before making landfall on the northern Gulf Coast and sweeping along the Florida-Alabama border. That pattern was replicated again with Hurricane Zeta. Tropical Storm Eta drenched the Keys before coming back around to strike central and north Florida.
The hardest hit area was Louisiana, where three hurricanes made landfall—two of them less than 15 miles apart. Louisiana was in the forecast cone published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Hurricane Center at least six times in 2020, starting with Hurricane Laura.
On August 27, WeatherFlow’s Hurricane Network of coastal weather stations reported sustained winds of 101 mph and a 117 mph gust in Cameron Parish in southwest Louisiana.
There’s no surefire reason to explain why that region has been a target, but when prime conditions for development combine with fairly steady steering currents that direct the storms, it is a recipe for repeated hits.
Historically, capturing wind data from tropical systems in real time has been difficult, but collaborative public-private efforts have resulted in a more robust network of weather stations, with readings from private companies such as WeatherFlow supplementing public data from the National Hurricane Center.
Although the 2020 hurricane season has been much more active than normal, it could have been significantly worse.
During mid-September’s peak, the prevailing steering currents took many storms away from the U.S. Apart from Hurricane Sally and Tropical Storm Beta, all seven of the other storms that formed in September did not approach the U.S. Most remained out to sea.