Weather

Houston area had quiet year for hurricane season, meteorologist says

While the Atlantic Ocean was rife with activity, very few storms made their way into the Gulf of Mexico – thanks, in part, to the same conditions that ushered in this summer’s brutal heatwave.

Clouds Downtown Houston
Adam Zuvanich
Houston had a relatively quiet year when it came to hurricanes.

The end of this month signals the official conclusion of this year's quiet hurricane season, which runs from June 1 through Nov. 30. While the Atlantic Ocean was rife with activity, very few storms made their way into the Gulf of Mexico – thanks, in part, to the same conditions that ushered in this summer's brutal heatwave.

This year brought 20 named storms to the Atlantic, the fourth most since 1950, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. An average year sees 14 named storms, including seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes.

However, very few took a path into the Gulf of Mexico this season. Hurricane Idalia made landfall in the Florida panhandle in late August, while Tropical Storm Harold hit Corpus Christi but caused relatively minor damage.

"It was an active season overall in the Atlantic, but in the Gulf, we never even had a long-term threat, let alone something in the short-term," said Matt Lanza, managing editor for Space City Weather. Lanza chalks the mild activity in the Gulf up to steering currents and wind shear, in large part.

"The steering currents – the winds that basically direct where tropical waves and tropical storms are going to go – generally favored taking Atlantic disturbances further out to the Caribbean and then out to sea, so they never had the opportunity to even approach the Gulf or cause mischief here," said Lanza. "Then there was also high wind shear, and when that happens, even when you get a disturbance in the Caribbean, it tends to get ripped up as it approaches the Gulf. There was high wind shear in the Gulf, too."

This year, the Atlantic saw warmer waters than usual – a phenomenon known as "El Niño," which tends to coincide with high wind shear and lower chances of severe storms in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean.

The Texas Gulf Coast also saw very high pressure this summer, in part leading to the beastly hot and dry conditions Houstonians experienced nearly non-stop from June through September.

"Everything is kind of connected, so the things that caused the storms to steer out into the Atlantic were the same things that led to high pressure being so dominant and relatively stable over the southern central U.S.," said Lanza. "Even if we didn't have El Niño or wind shear, if something came into the Gulf, it would have been deflected away anyway, since we were just so stagnant and had so much high pressure sitting over us all summer."

Ironically, the torrid summer may have had a silver lining, even with its lack of clouds.

"The hot summer, while excruciating and miserable for a lot of people, did actually kind of help in a way to limit hurricane development," Lanza said.

While 2017 through 2021 saw very active hurricane seasons in the Gulf, 2022 and 2023 brought relative quiet. However, Lanza says it's hard to say how long the relative calm will last.

"It does ebb and flow. You know, hopefully, we're going into a quieter period for a longer duration, but history has shown that sometimes these quiet periods can only last two or three years or something like that," he said. "Then it gets active again for another couple years."