I previously wrote Hurricane Zeta tied 2020 with the 2005 hurricane season as the most-active season on record, defined by the number of named storms. Here’s an amendment. If you include an unnamed 2005 hybrid storm that curiously shows up in some databases with the name of Eta, then this year’s Hurricane Eta, following Hurricane Zeta, tied 2005 for the most active season, and Subtropical Storm Theta has broken the record. Zeta, Eta, Theta … it’s all Greek to me.
You can slice and dice statistics for the number of named storms, number of hurricanes or total number of tropical depressions and named storms, and get many measures of which season was more extreme. It’s the storms that impact you that are more significant. Here are some questions I got about Zeta.
“Why was Zeta so strong inland?”
Zeta was strong inland because it was moving twice as fast as a typical hurricane. That allowed hurricane-force winds to move inland twice as far as you would normally expect.
“Why has this been such an active season? Is it due to climate change?”
The season was active because ocean temperatures have stayed warmer than average over large areas, and wind shear has been fairly light. How much it is related to the trend of warming and moistening of the atmosphere, only time and research will tell. No one storm or season is caused solely by climate change.
“During Zeta, was that roar like a freight train, a tornado?”
In most cases, no. People who have gone through direct tornado strikes often describe having their ears pop (due to sudden pressure change) and hearing a roar like a train. The wind and gusts Zeta produced were equivalent in strength to a typical tornado around here. All high wind sounds the same. Wind gusts and bursts also cause sudden pressure changes.
From a tornado, you would expect any roar and direct impact to last less than a minute. In most hurricanes, when you hear a roar, it lasts multiple minutes, perhaps intermittently, telling you it couldn’t be a passing tornado. In the case of Hurricane Sally, that roar may have lasted dozens and dozens of minutes, within the slow-moving eyewall and inner rain bands.
With Hurricane Zeta, the steady winds 2,000 feet above the ground were over 100 mph. Whenever that high wind was transported to the ground, in gusts, you got extreme winds, likely with a roar. Like all hurricanes, Zeta had feeder bands spiraling into the storm. If a strong band crossed through your community, that’s when you likely got the highest wind and roaring sound. From that pattern, there are brief swirls and vortices that may form, separate from tornadoes, but they are not something that often shows up on radar.
The roar of any wind signals possible imminent damage. The longer you hear that sound, the longer that extreme wind lasts and the worse the impact may be. Stop, hey, what’s that sound? Everybody look what’s going down … wind.
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