As hurricane season ends, 2017 settles firmly into record book

Texas Army National Guard crews conduct search and rescue operations over Houston, Texas, in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey on August 29. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Malcolm McClendon/U.S. Army National Guard/UPI | License Photo

By Daniel Uria – UPI

Eighteen named storms were recorded this year — from Tropical Storm Arlene to Tropical Storm Rina.

The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season officially ends Thursday after wreaking havoc on a number of U.S. and foreign communities this year — some of which are still rebuilding, now weeks or months after the fact.

Eighteen named storms were recorded in 2017 — from Tropical Storm Arlene in April to Tropical Storm Rina in November. Ten became hurricanes, and six of those attained “major” classification (Category 3 strength or greater) — exceeding the predictions of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which said this year saw the most active hurricane season since 2010.

This year also set new storm records.

In August, five out of six hurricanes — Harvey, Irma, Jose, Lee and Maria — became “major” within 30 days. Three of them — Harvey, Irma and Jose — formed consecutively.

Officials estimate this year’s storms caused nearly $370 billion in damage worldwide and $202 billion in the United States.

In the aftermath, Congress passed several pieces of legislation to provide aid to U.S. states and territories affected by such a harmful season. President Donald Trump signed a $15.25 billion aid package in September, and later committed $36.5 billion in additional relief.

The five most prominent hurricanes of 2017:

No. 5 — Ophelia / Category 3 / October

Ophelia grew into a major hurricane in October, late in the season. Unlike the others on this list, Ophelia did not threaten any U.S. area. Instead, it steamed east and made landfall in Ireland.

Three people died directly from Ophelia, making it a rather tame storm on the human toll, but it packed powerful winds topping out at 115 mph.

For the first time since the 1880s, Ophelia also became the season’s 10th consecutive (and final) hurricane.

Combined damage estimates in Ireland and several other European countries affected was about $70 million.

No. 4 — Nate / Category 1 / October

Hurricane Nate formed in early October and followed a similar westward path that most storms in 2017 did, from the Atlantic through the Caribbean.

Although Nate did not qualify as a major hurricane, topping out at Category 1 strength, it was actually one of the most devastating storms of the year. Forty-three people died and damage was estimated at over $835 million as a result of both Hurricane and Tropical Storm Nate, which recorded wind speeds of 90 mph.

Nate impacted several areas in the U.S. Southeast — including greater New Orleans — and prompted severe weather, structural damage and evacuations.

No. 3 — Maria / Category 5 / September

Hurricane Maria savaged the Caribbean islands in mid-September, destroying large numbers of homes and buildings, and sacked economies by harming the islands’ lucrative tourism industry.

Barbuda received the most damage, as 90 percent of its buildings were destroyed — along with 85 percent on the island of Dominica.

The British Virgin Islands lost millions in government revenue when a large number of its boats were destroyed by hurricanes this year. The country’s largest boat charter businesses, Sunsail and The Moorings, plan to reopen by Dec. 9.

Anguilla plans to open the island to tourists in some capacity for the Christmas season, with 30 small hotels, apartments and guesthouses reopened since the storm.

Perhaps the greatest harm caused by Maria was seen in Puerto Rico — where much of the island is still without power after weeks of political and mechanical wrangling. At Category 4 on arrival, Maria was the strongest hurricane to hit the U.S. territory in 85 years.

The official death count from the storm was 55, but CNN surveyed 112 funeral homes that identified 499 storm-related deaths. Damage is estimated at over $100 billion.

Hundreds of pets in Puerto Rico were rescued and sent to shelters in the mainland United States, largely because much of the electricity and water shortages. Officials said this month they will also airlift displaced refugees to the United States.

By late November, more than 48 percent of Puerto Ricans remained without power, 33 percent of cellular infrastructure was still down and 10 percent of the population lacked access to drinkable water.

Whitefish Energy Holdings LLC worked this month to restore Puerto Rico’s power after stopping work for four days due to lack of payment. The company is expected to work through Thursday before its contract ends. The company became the center of political controversy and was ultimately replaced.

Workers from New York’s Con Edison also traveled to the island to assist in the restoration process and are expected to remain there for about a month.

No. 2 — Harvey / Category 4 / August

Hurricane Harvey made landfall between Port Aransas and Port O’Connor, Texas, as a Category 4 storm on Aug. 25 — and poured 27 trillion gallons of rain over the course of six days. Eighty-two people died and damage was estimated at nearly $200 billion — the costliest of any storm this year.

Officials said more than 1 million people were displaced by Harvey and hundreds of thousands of homes were damaged or destroyed.

In the aftermath, more than 886,000 Texas households applied for some form of disaster aid.

More than two months after the storm hit Coastal Texas, notably Houston, officials recounted stories of residents still living in tents and told the Texas House Appropriations Subcommittee on Disaster Impact and Recovery that the state hasn’t funded all communities’ relief efforts in an equitable way.

No. 1 — Irma / Category 5 / September

The most prominent hurricane of the year was one that both amazed and worried forecasters as it prepared to unleash fury on the Caribbean and the U.S. Southeast.

Island nations and the state of Florida remained in Irma’s sights for days before anyone really knew which way it would travel. As it swirled in the Atlantic and Caribbean, Irma generated major concern among meteorologists, some of whom said the storm was the largest ever recorded in the Atlantic basin — and famously showed how it even dwarfed the size of catastrophic Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

After hitting Puerto Rico, Cuba and many small islands in the Caribbean, Irma settled on its final track up the western coast of Florida — pummeling Key West (at Category 4 strength), Naples and Fort Meyers (both at Category 3).

Prior tracks had Irma traveling up the east coast of Florida — directly over Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, the state’s most crowded population centers. Those cities ultimately escaped with comparatively light damage in view of damage on the western shore.

Irma’s maximum sustained winds were clocked at a whopping 185 mph — the highest of any hurricane this year and the first in recorded history to maintain that strength for a 24-hour period. Damage was estimated at over $66 billion.

Although Irma generally spared the Miami metro area, nowhere in Florida entirely dodged its effects.

“It caused significant damage because it moved from south to north. It covered the entire state,” National Weather Service Meteorologist Anthony Reynes said. “Historically, the storms come from the east or the west — the Atlantic or the Gulf.”

Now more than two months after the storm, officials say Irma’s death toll could still climb. The Florida Division of Emergency Management placed the toll at 72 on Wednesday.

Several communities on the western coast of Florida have reported that debris pick-up is nearly complete. The city of Palmetto, in fact, paid $180,000 to remove 18,000 cubic yards of debris.

One of the more major problems caused by Irma was a widespread power blackout. Florida Power and Light said more than 5 million residents were without electricity for an extended period of time in the second week of September.

With the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season concluded Thursday, any storms in the next seven months won’t go into the official “season” statistics. The 2018 season will begin June 1.

Related UPI Stories