2017 hurricane season breaks records for intensity, damages

News4Jax hosts discussion between area emergency disaster leaders

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The 2017 hurricane season ended Thursday, closing a season that broke multiple records.

Most notably for Southeast Georgia and Northeast Florida, Hurricane Irma sent feet of floodwaters into the St. Johns River and the surrounding areas, including Black Creek in Clay County.

Hurricane Harvey played out the worst case flooding scenario for Houston, Texas, and some parts of Puerto Rico are still without power and running water from Hurricane Maria.  

News4Jax meteorologists reviewed lessons learned from the 2017 hurricane season, how we as a community are doing after Hurricane Irma, and the success stories rising from the disaster and hosted a live, roundtable discussion Thursday to recap the storm and answer viewers' questions. 

Weather Authority Chief Meteorologist John Gaughan and meteorologist Mark Collins talked with Steve Woodward, who oversees the city of Jacksonville's emergency operations, Linda Stoughton, the St. Johns County director of emergency management and John Ward, the director of emergency management for Clay County.

Ward said more people could have heeded evacuation warnings ahead of Irma.

"I think, due to the hype of the storm, we had quite a few people move. But I think because of the complacencies we dealt with in the past, Matthew kind of assisted with that," Ward said. "We had Matthew, it was the first big evacuation, and it didn't produce anything for us. I think it was the 'cry wolf' for us."

Stoughton also talked about how Irma was much different than Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

"With Hurricane Matthew, it was a coastal event to us -- wave action, destruction, homes, storm surge in St. Johns County," Stoughton said. "Irma was a westerly storm that impacted the St. Johns River, Hastings, Flagler Estates."

Collins also offered analyses of the factors that contributed to the record flooding along the St. Johns River that closed many businesses and damaged homes and vehicles.

Meteorologist Jonathan Stacey updated the state of the beaches in St. Johns County after erosion from both hurricanes Matthew and Irma as the homeowners try to protect their homes from the shrinking dunes. 

2017 hurricane season, by the numbers

This year, we saw an unusually active hurricane season, but not the most active. The 2005 hurricane season (Charley, Francis, Ivan, Jeanne, Katrina) had 28 named storms and holds the honor of most active season, whereas we saw 16 named storms for 2017. The intensity of the hurricanes of 2017 is notable however, it is unusual to have eight storms reach major hurricane strength, which is Category 3 or higher. 

By the halfway point of the 2017 hurricane season, we had already seen the number of storms that a typical season averages with 13 named systems as of mid-September. 

Six named storms made landfall on the continental United States this year. Two of them -- Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma -- were Category 4 storms when they made landfall. Hurricane Nate was a Category 1 hurricane, and Cindy, Emily, Phillipe, and Nate were tropical storms when they moved onshore. Also outside of the continental U.S., Hurricane Maria ravaged the island of Puerto Rico as a Category 5 storm. 

According to the National Hurricane Center, a higher number of storms developed during the first three and a half months of the 2017 hurricane season than the entire number of storms of the hurricane seasons from 1997, 1999, 2002, 2006, 2014 or 2015. 


While August, September and October are considered the peak months of hurricane season for storm development, what made 2017's storm development unique is to have two Category 4 and two Category 5 hurricanes to form within a few weeks. Also it is not typical for three major hurricanes  to move over the same area within a few weeks as Irma, Jose, and Maria did in 2017. 

This hurricane season may prove to be the most expensive on record. The official totals will not come out for a few weeks, but that record is currently held by the 2005 hurricane season (Charley, Francis, Ivan, Jeanne, Katrina) caused an estimated $143.5 billion of damage to this country. Early estimates show Hurricanes Irma and Harvey could cost close to $300 billion in damage. 

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