P!NPoints: Hurricane season 2010: Constant storms, inconsistent impact

Jan. 12, 2010, is a date that will be forever associated with nature’s calamitous effect on a Caribbean.

That date is associated with the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that rattled Haiti, which left an estimated 230,000 dead and 1 million homeless, and was a disaster of epic proportions. The other major severe weather concerns of 2010 included the Atlantic hurricane season, which was predicted before the season to contain 14 to 23 named storms, eight to 14 hurricanes and three to seven major hurricanes of Category 3 or higher strength, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Though 21 storms were tracked between June and October, few of them caused widespread loss in Caribbean nations and coastal Central and North America that came close to the damage inflicted in Haiti.

Through October, tropical depressions, storms and hurricanes were responsible for more than 200 deaths in the Atlantic in 2010, making the season much deadlier than the 2009 season, during which six people were killed. Many of the deaths can be attributed to a small number of storms – Hurricanes Alex, Julia and Karl, along with Tropical Storm Nicole, were the deadlier storms of the season, though November could bring further loss.

The season’s first major activity took place in June, when Tropical Storm Alex made landfall in Belize and later in Mexico, building to a Category 2 hurricane. Wind and rain from this storm has been attributed to 51 deaths in the Dominican Republic, Central America and Mexico, and it caused extreme flooding in northeast mexico and south Texas. It was the earliest Atlantic hurricane since 1995, and it caused an estimated $1.89 billion in damage. Alex was followed by Tropical Depression Two, which followed a similar path but never reached Tropical Storm strength.

In early July, Tropical Storm Bonnie brought flooding to Puerto Rico, killing one, and caused evacuations in the Dominican Republic. The storm passed into the Gulf of Mexico on July 23, but it soon dissipated and caused little more than thunderstorms on the U.S. Gulf Coast. In August, Tropical Storm Colin and Tropical Depression Five formed in the western Atlantic and west of Florida, respectively, but cause little minimal damage.

The second hurricane of the season, Hurricane Danielle, reached Category 3 strength in mid-August but traveled along the U.S. East Coast without making landfall. Hurricane Earl, the season’s third, reached Category 4 strength on Aug. 30 in the Caribbean but was a Category 2 storm when it came near Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. However, structural damage was minimal and the storm weakened as it traveled north along the East Coast. Throughout the Caribbean, it caused an estimated $150 million in damages.

After two low-impact tropical storms, Fiona and Gaston, passed through in late August and early September, Tropical Storm Hermine formed near southeastern Mexico and traveled north toward Texas, making landfall near the Rio Grande. It led to flooding in Texas that killed three and caused an estimated $75 million in damage.

Hurricane Igor was a close call for many coastal cities. The two-week storm almost reached Category 5 strength in mid-September but was a Category 1 storm when it hit Bermuda. Along the U.S. coastline, the storm killed one in North Carolina before causing an estimated $100 million in damages in Newfoundland, Canada.

Hurricane Julia did not make landfall but reached Category 4 strength shortly after Igor. On its heels was Hurricane Karl, which formed near Venezuela and made landfall as a Category 3 storm near Veracruz, Mexico. It caused flooding and power outages, and also briefly shut down oil production along the Mexican Gulf Coast. Close to 20 people are thought to have died in part because of the storm. This storm was followed by Category 1 Hurricane Lisa, which had minimal impact on land.

After Tropical Storm Matthew, Tropical Storm Nicole caused 13 deaths in Jamaica and along the North Carolina seaboard. In Jamaica particularly, Nicole caused widespread structural damage, estimated at $150 million.

In October, hurricanes Otto and Paula affected the Caribbean, though only Paula is known to have led to a fatality. Hurricane Richard formed mid-month near the Yucatan Peninsula, but it dissipated as it neared Texas and north Mexico. In late October, Hurricane Shary formed but dissipated within days, and Hurricane Tomas had formed in the southern Caribbean.

In total, the 2010 season has so far seen two Tropical Depressions, seven Tropical Storms, five Category 1 hurricanes, two of Category 2 strength, one of Category 3 strength, and four Category 4 storms. The 10 hurricanes and five major hurricanes were within NOAA estimates of the season. Notably, during one point in the season 36 days passed without a lull in storm activity, the longest period in five years.