Did Anything Happen? Recapping the 2015 Atlantic Hurricane Season

By Vernon Trollinger, December 9, 2015, Hurricane Prep

What? There was a hurricane season? Certainly, activity in the Pacific Ocean was a completely different story (the second most-active season ever!), but the 2015 Atlantic hurricane season season was comparatively quiet.

This year’s powerful El Niño took months to emerge, but it produced enough effects in the atmosphere to continually derail hurricane formation in the Atlantic basin.

Did Anything Happen? Recapping the 2015 Atlantic Hurricane Season

Storms this coherent and collected could only be found in the Pacific Ocean in 2015.

Of the eleven storm systems that formed between May 8 and November 12, 4 reached hurricane status, and 2 became major hurricanes. While only 2 of them made landfall in the continental US, the Leeward Islands and the Central Bahamas regularly took a pounding.

Very early in the 2015 hurricane season, two tropical storms did make landfall in the US. Tropical Storm Ana meandered up the eastern seaboard from May 8 to May 11, bringing four to six inches of rain and 60 mph winds to North Carolina. Once it left the warm Gulf Stream, it was plagued with cool, dry wind shearing that progressively weakened the system as it moved closer to the US coast. Once it moved inland, it turned north, lost strength, and became a a tropical depression on May 10. It later passed over the Delmarva Peninsula and headed northeasterly out into the Atlantic where it eventually joined a frontal system.

Tropical Storm Bill made landfall on Matagorda Island near Port O’Connor, Texas on June 16 with sustained winds of 60 mph. Once over land, the storm rapidly lost strength, and by June 17, it had been downgraded to a tropical depression. But since much of Texas had already been saturated from prior weeks of rain, flooding was widespread as Bill brought 4 to 11 inches of rain. Bill’s remnants traveled northeasterly, dropping heavy rain from Oklahoma to Ohio and West Virginia.

Hurricane Joaquin spiraled over the Central Bahamas as a category 3 storm on September 27 before heading northeasterly into the northern Atlantic. Yet, a low pressure system hovering over the Southeast US pulled rain from the hurricane, dumping 18 inches of rain onto South Carolina and causing catastrophic flooding. Joaquin also claimed the lives of 28 Americans and 5 Poles aboard the US flagged cargo ship El Faro, and she sank with all hands on October 1.

What Happened?

While El Niño brought elevated sea surface temperatures in the Pacific, that warm air changed the circulation of wind patterns over the Atlantic basin. As storm systems developed off the coast of west Africa and moved westward, they experienced increased wind shearing. In other words, since tropical storm systems thrive over warm waters and in calm winds, wind shearing disrupts the flow of heat and moisture powering them, which means it’s much harder for these systems to form.

Add to this the effects of increased dry air from the Saharan Air Layer, which further inhibits tropical system formation. Consequently, storm systems that could form tended to be weak or poorly organized and had a much hader time becoming hurricanes.

What About Next Year?

Did Anything Happen? Recapping the 2015 Atlantic Hurricane Season

This year’s El Niño is forecast to peak in December and gradually fade by late Spring/early Summer 2016 into a neutral state. While not currently predicted, NOAA is assessing its long lead forecasts with the possibility of a La Niña emerging. In the meantime, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center (CPC) will release its 2016 Hurricane Season prediction at the end of May 2016.

Stay tuned. We’ll be back in 5-6 months for more hurricane-related news.

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A native of Wyomissing Hills, PA, Vernon Trollinger studied writing and film at the University of Iowa, later earning his MA in writing there as well. Following a decade of digging in CRM archaeology, he now writes about green energy technology, home energy efficiency, DIY projects, the natural gas industry, and the electrical grid.

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