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2023 Atlantic hurricane season: 4th most active, yet surprisingly low-impact

Hurricane Lee was starting to send dangerous surf and rip currents to parts of the southeast US coast late on September 10 – and more of the East Coast is expected to see hazardous beach conditions in the coming days as the storm moves up the Atlantic, forecasters say. (Photo by CNN)


2023 Atlantic hurricane season recap. (WISH graphic)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The 2023 Atlantic hurricane season has concluded, leaving an indelible mark on record books as the fourth-most active season on record, tied with the year 1933.

Characterized by 20 named storms, including seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes, the season defied expectations despite the presence of El Niño, which normally suppresses activity. It achieved this feat by boasting the most storms in the main development region and setting a record for an El Niño year, thanks to exceptionally warm sea surface temperatures across the Atlantic.

In terms of economic impact, the 2023 season proved less costly compared with recent years, with damages estimated at a minimum of $3.09 billion (USD). This makes it the least expensive season since 2015. Tragically, the storms resulted in the loss of 16 lives, the lowest death toll since 2009.


Notable storms of the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season. (WISH graphic)

Commencing on June 1 and concluding on Nov. 30, the season’s start was notably early, with the formation of a subtropical storm on Jan. 16. This marked the earliest start since Hurricane Alex in January 2016, although the system went unnamed at the time.

Among the notable storms of the season were Tropical Storm Harold, which struck southern Texas on Aug. 22, and Hurricane Idalia, which made landfall in Florida as a high-end Category 3 hurricane after briefly reaching Category 4 strength on Aug. 30.

In early September, Hurricane Lee rapidly intensified into a Category 5 hurricane before making multiple landfalls in Atlantic Canada as a strong extratropical cyclone. Later that month, Tropical Storm Ophelia made landfall in North Carolina.


The effect of El Niño on the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season. (WISH graphic)

Despite the above-normal activity, the El Niño-enhanced wind shear hampered most storms from intensifying further. Additionally, the weakened Bermuda High, influenced by the El Niño event, allowed systems to veer northward or take more easterly tracks out to sea instead of being directed towards the continental United States, Mexico, or Central America. Consequently, only a few storms made landfall or caused significant damage, with a total of three systems affecting the U.S.

Overall, the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season showcased remarkable activity despite the presence of El Niño, underscoring the unpredictable nature of these natural phenomena. While the number of storms was notably high, the limited land impacts and relatively low economic damage highlight the importance of preparedness and the effectiveness of forecasting and mitigation efforts.