NASA's Aqua satellite captured a visible image of Superstorm Sandy's massive size as seen Oct. 29, covering 1.8 million square miles.
NASA's Aqua satellite captured a visible image of Superstorm Sandy's massive size as seen Oct. 29, covering 1.8 million square miles. (NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team)

Despite being one of the most active on record, the 2012 hurricane season lacked power -- Superstorm Sandy notwithstanding  -- making it a "highly unusual year", according to one storm forecaster.

The season officially ends Friday, and some forecasters suspect a post-season cyclone could be possible, though it would be unlikely to affect land. But assuming that doesn't happen, the 2012 season ranks third among the most active since record-keeping began in 1851 with 19 named storms.


While most pre- and even mid-season hurricane forecasts underestimated how far we would get on the storm names list, the number of major hurricanes meanwhile came nowhere near the guesses. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in August predicted five to eight Atlantic hurricanes, two to three of them "major", rated categories 3-5.

Only Hurricane Michael reached Category 3 strength, and for just six hours, peaking with 115 mph winds.

"It was a highly unusual year in that we had a lot of activity, but it tended to be weaker," said Philip Klotzbach, a forecaster with the Tropical Meteorology Project at Colorado State University. The project will release a critique of its own predictions on Thursday, finding it called for too few named storms but too many major hurricanes.

The 2012 season is tied with 2011 and 2010 as well as 1995 and 1887 for third-most tropical storms on record. There were more only in 2005, with 28, and 1933, with 21, according to the National Hurricane Center.

There was only a single major hurricane for the first time since 1997, according to the center's records.

NOAA meteorologists classified the season as above-average in a wrap-up posted Thursday, adding that it was proof that it doesn't take a major hurricane to devastate coastlines.

“This year proved that it’s wrong to think that only major hurricanes can ruin lives and impact local economies,” Laura Furgione, acting director of NOAA’s National Weather Service, said in a statement. “We are hopeful that after the 2012 hurricane season, more families and businesses all along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts become more “weather ready” by understanding the risks associated with living near the coastline."

A persistent jet stream pattern helped keep storms away from the U.S. for the most part, according to NOAA scientists. Klotzbach attributed the unusual pattern of weak storms remaning out at sea to relatively dry, sinking air in the tropics. There was relatively more activity in the subtropics, particularly around the Azores, where Nadine circled for about a month.

The season continued an era of high activity for Atlantic hurricanes that began in 1995, withmore than 70 percent of seasons more active than normal, according to NOAA. In the past, such periods of high activity have lasted 25-40 years, with the last one from the mid-1930s until 1970, according to NOAA.

Superstorm Sandy is somewhat in a class by itself among 2012 storms, since it was no longer behaving as a tropical cyclone before it made landfall last month. Regardless, it stands out as the most destructive storm of the season by far.

Others to influence U.S. coastline included pre-season Tropical Storm Beryl in May, Tropical Storm Debby in June, and Hurricane Isaac in August. But remarkably, a dozen of the 19 never made landfall at all, only churning out in the Atlantic.

The National Weather Service's Baltimore/Washington forecast offices reviews Sandy's impacts in the region in a special new page on its website.

The storm brought Baltimore's fifth-highest day of rain on record, and the most for any October day on record, with 6.67 inches at BWI Marshall Airport, more than three times the precipitation recorded in New Jersey and New York. Rainfall reached at most 14 inches in parts of the Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland, the highest recorded in the storm over land.

Wind gusts topped 50 mph across much of central and southern Maryland, with 60 mph gusts in some pockets and 70 mph on the Chesapeake near Point Lookout in St. Mary's County.

Have a weather question? E-mail me at sdance@baltsun.com or tweet to @MdWeather.