As supposed to recent Atlantic Hurricane Seasons, the 2002 Atlantic Hurricane Season ended rather quietly as a moderate El Nino developed in the late summer and fall, and hindered tropical activity. Although the causes for decreased tropical activity were rather obvious, it was still rather unusual to see no tropical storms or hurricanes at all during the months of October and November. In 2001, there were a number of tropical storms and hurricanes including Hurricane Michelle, and Hurricane Olga, which lasted until the first week of December, 2001.
When the 2002 Atlantic Hurricane Season ended last November, it did so without much, if any, fanfare. The last six to seven weeks of the season were quite dormant in terms of activity. Quite surprising in light of the fact this season had 12 named storms, the most landfalling storms in the United States since 1999, the first landfalling hurricane since the end of last century, and most importantly, October and November have been very active months since 1994.
Nevertheless, a stronger than anticipated El Nino could perhaps be the culprit as the 2002 season went into an early hibernation in mid-October. It was quite startling to see such an abrupt end to the high level of activity in the Atlantic especially in light of the fact that statistically, there have been an increased number of tropical storms and even powerful hurricanes during the months of October and November since the 1994 season.
Although a few disturbances developed in the Atlantic over the last seven weeks or so of the 2002 Atlantic Hurricane Season, none of them reached past depression status. Consequently, the Atlantic season ended with 12 named storms, 4 hurricanes, and 2 major hurricanes. The slight strengthening of the moderate El Nino episode created just enough hostile conditions to prevent more storms from developing.
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El Nino, which is a weather phenomena that occurs on average every five years or so, developed again in late 2002 after a short period of normal overall climate conditions in the Atlantic. Although it was much weaker than the last El Nino episode in 1997, it still was strong enough to hamper hurricane development.
El Nino conditions happen when sea surface temperatures off the South American coasts are warmer than normal, and they often coincide with a flip-flip in pressures in both the Eastern and Western Atlantic. The linking of these two conditions is often called ENSO, which stands for the El Nino Southern Oscillation.
The Southern Oscillation was a term coined by Sir Richard Walker in the 1920s when he tried to study the monsoon circulation pattern in India and Southeast Asia. In El Nino years, areas normally dominated by the monsoon pattern do not get any rain at all while over to the East in the Central Pacific, places such as Hawaii and Tahiti receive copious amounts of rainfall.
Other affects of the El Nino and Southern Oscillation is rather mild winters in Western Canada, strong and numerous winter storms in California, flooding in the Southeastern United States from Texas to Florida, and warm and dry winters in the Northeast. Two of the most severe El Nino episodes occurred in 1982-83, and 1997-98 with the 1982-83 El Nino being the most catastrophic by causing some $8 billion dollars in damage.
The 2002 edition of the El Nino was much weaker than those two, but still was stronger than anticipated, and that created hostile upper level conditions throughout much of the Atlantic Basin, which in turn prevented tropical development over the final seven weeks of the 2002 Atlantic Hurricane Season. As of early April, 2003, the latest El Nino episode subsided, and conditions are favorable again for an active 2003 season as we have already seen with the development of Tropical Storm Ana
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Summarizing the 2002 Atlantic Hurricane Season, it was still another active year with 12 named storms, but only 4 hurricanes, and 2 major hurricanes. Eight storms made landfall across the United States coastline, while Lili became the first major hurricane to make landfall since 1999.
As a matter of fact, Louisiana dodged a couple of big bullets over a period of just a few weeks as both Lili and Isidore threatened the very low lying areas of New Orleans and the nearby marshes. Since 1995, there have been 106 named storms, 64 hurricanes, and 30 major hurricanes.
Many forecasters have indicated that the past eight years or so may be the beginnings of a rather active period of hurricane activity over the next several decades. In the last eight years ending in 2002, only the 1997 Atlantic Hurricane Season had less than ten named storms.
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