The 2011 Atlantic hurricane season featured 19 named storms, but one in particular stands out for its long-term impacts along the East Coast and the ample media coverage it garnered.
Hurricane Irene, which hit the United States in South Carolina as a Category 1 hurricane on Aug. 27, traveled along the coastline and up into New England as Tropical Storm Irene. Over two-plus days, it is estimated to have caused damages estimated at $10 billion and to have led to deaths of about at least 50 people.
Of the 18 named storms, six were hurricanes, and three of those six were major hurricanes (Category 3 or above). About 120 people died as a result of these storms, which caused more than $11.5 billion in damage in the Atlantic basin. This activity was in the high range of predictions made before the season by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center, which predicted between 12 and 18 named storms. A Colorado State University prediction estimated 16 named storms, and Weather Services International predicted 15.
The season began in late June with Tropical Storm Arlene, which caused large-scale flooding and mudslides in central Mexico, leading to more than 20 deaths. It was followed by tropical storms Bret and Cindy in mid-July, which largely did not affect populations in the Atlantic. In late July, Tropical Storm Don formed in the Gulf of Mexico but also had little impact on land.
In early August, Tropical Storm Emily caused structural damaging, flooding and mudslides in Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Haiti before dissipating over the Atlantic. Tropical storms Franklin and Gert followed the next week in the Atlantic, but did not make landfall. Mid-month, Tropical Storm Harvey formed in the Gulf of Mexico and caused mudslides and flooding in eastern Mexico.
On Aug. 22, Tropical Storm Irene strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane, the first storm of the season to reach that classification. On Aug. 24, it became a Category 3 storm with wind speeds of 120 mph, prompting governors in many eastern coastal U.S. states to begin preparations for evacuations. The storm caused flooding in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic and Haiti, and hit The Bahamas as a major hurricane, with winds approaching 140 mph. Irene caused massive damage to some of The Bahamas islands, including nearly completely destroying the Lovely Bay settlement. By causing more than $40 million in damages, it was the most destructive tropical storm to hit the country in 12 years.
After causing limited power outages in South Carolina, Hurricane Irene made landfall early Aug. 27 in North Carolina, spawning tornadoes in the eastern part of the state, causing as much as 14 inches of rain in some areas and destroying a bridge from Hatteras Island to the mainland. In the mid-Atlantic states, the storm left hundreds of thousands without power. As it weakened, Irene caused flooding for several days in many areas in New Jersey and New York and caused more than 750,000 power outages in Connecticut.
In its aftermath, the storm led to questions about the response to power outages in areas of the Northeast, severely damaged agricultural production in several states and led to an estimated 65 deaths across the Caribbean and North America.
What followed was a period of high storm activity but few impacts on land. In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Irene, Tropical Storm Jose and Hurricane Katia formed in the Atlantic but did not make landfall. In early September, Tropical Storm Lee made landfall in Louisiana, leading to flooding in several U.S. states. Hurricane Maria passed harmlessly in the Atlantic, and Tropical Storm Nate caused little more than rains in Mexico.
In late September, Hurricane Ophelia, which along with Hurricane Katia reached the season’s strongest classification at Category 4, passed north in the Atlantic but avoided landfall. Hurricane Phillipe formed at about the same time but dissipated east of most Caribbean islands. Nearly a month later, Hurricane Rina brought heavy rains to the Yucatan Peninsula, and in November, Tropical Storm Sean passed east of Bermuda.
In total, about 120 deaths and $11.6 billion in damage were attributed to the season’s storms, creating less of an impact on land than 2010’s storms.