In terms of the intensity, duration and frequency of storms, 2020 does not match the record set in 2005, when eight hurricanes were classified as Category 3 or higher. Three of those hurricanes reached Category 5, a number NOAA described as “unprecedented.” One of those storms, Hurricane Katrina, had weakened to Category 3 status by the time it slammed into the Gulf Coast, devastating much of New Orleans and killing more than 1,500 people.
This year, two hurricanes — Laura and Delta — reached Category 4 status before landing in Louisiana and Texas, where they caused tremendous destruction. So far this year there have been no Category 5 hurricanes.
“If you just look at the number of storms, it gives you a skewed view of how active it’s been,” Dr. Klotzbach said, referring to the 2020 season.
And in all of the breathless discussion over the record, another important factor has often been overlooked. Technology has significantly improved the ability of hurricane scientists to detect short-lived, weak tropical storms that in the past would not have been identified and given names, said Christopher Landsea, chief of the tropical analysis and forecast branch at the National Hurricane Center.
“When one wants to do a fair comparison of storms now versus storms in the past, you really have to be careful about how to interpret the raw number,” he said. “There has been a lot of hype about the record number of storms and, yes, it’s been a busy year. There have been horrific impacts. But is this really a record? The answer is no.”
In some areas, the destruction from the hurricane season has been devastating.
Five named storms struck Louisiana this year, breaking the record of four that was set in 2002, according to Dr. Klotzbach.
Hurricane Laura, which hit the southwest corner of the state in September with 150-mile-per-hour winds, was one of the most powerful storms on record to make landfall in Louisiana. Six weeks later, Hurricane Delta weakened to a Category 2 by the time it reached land, but still battered towns that were still trying to recover from Laura.