SO FAR, SO GOOD: Slow Start To Hurricane Season 2022 But Peak Time Is September

Unusual lack of hurricanes this season through August. However, September is historically most active month in Atlantic — be prepared.

Atlantic Hurricane Season 2022

What’s been missing this hurricane season so far? Happily, those dreaded “cones of uncertainty.” Only three storms were named this 2022 Atlantic hurricane season through August 31st. This lack of activity has developed into the big weather story of the summer of 2022 as the calendar turns to September.

Unusually Quiet Hurricane Season 2022 So Far

There were zero named storms during the month of August, an anomaly, but just how rare? It’s been 25 years since the last August without a named tropical storm — that was back in 1977. There’s reportedly been just three times in over 60 years dating back to 1961 when the month of August had no named storms.

Height of Hurricane Season Is September

With fall’s approach, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) has been discussing this year’s unusually slow start to the Atlantic hurricane season. But now’s not the time for complacency. The nation’s cyclone experts warn the peak time for hurricanes is September and to be prepared — be ready with a hurricane plan. We’re only midway through, with three months remaining of hurricane season 2022 that ends Nov. 30th.

Three of the mandatory evacuations of Amelia Island in the last quarter century happened during the month of September.

How Many Times Has Amelia Island Been Evacuated For Hurricanes?

Looking back at Amelia Island’s hurricane history for the past 25 years, there’s been four mandatory evacuations of Amelia Island. Three of these evacuations were in more recent times, triggered by hurricane Matthew (October 2016), Irma (September 2017), and Dorian (September 2019). Prior to this frequent hurricane evacuation spurt, there had been a 17-year gap — zero evacuations of Amelia Island between hurricane Floyd back in September 1999 and hurricane Matthew in 2016. Floyd was monstrous (satellite imagery seen above). The strongest hurricane of the 1999 Atlantic season, Floyd triggered the evacuation of millions of coastal residents as folks fled from Florida through North Carolina. At the time, it was said to be the “largest peacetime evacuation in U.S. history.”

Looking back at the last 10 years of completed Atlantic hurricane seasons through 2021, a total of six Atlantic hurricanes reached Category 5 strength, including three mentioned above — Matthew (October 2016), Irma (September 2017), and Dorian (September 2019). Lucky for our local region, all ended up first making landfall elsewhere, far away, and wind intensities weakened by the time they approached the northeast Florida and southeast Georgia area. Damage around here paled in comparison to the misfortune and destruction that befell others elsewhere.

According to NOAA’s National Hurricane Center, “Matthew was the strongest, deadliest, and most destructive cyclone of the 2016 Atlantic season.” It was Hurricane Matthew (October 2016) that was the most impactful storm locally in the last 25 years, even thought it had weakened to a CAT 2 by the time it passed by Amelia Island’s east coast about 50 miles off shore.

Dorian — The Labor Day Weekend Hurricane in 2019

It’s now been three years since the last mandatory evacuation of Amelia Island when Dorian loomed, putting a huge damper on Labor Day weekend 2019. What were some local residents doing in the days leading up to the holiday weekend? Boarding up homes and businesses and filling up sand bags.

Fernandina Beach historic courthouse boarded up for Hurricane Dorian Sept. 2019, Centre Street.
Downtown Fernandina’s historic courthouse boarded up (Hurricane Dorian Sept. 2019)
Preparing For Sept. 2019 Hurricane Dorian

An uneasy feeling crept around the island as Dorian loomed. It was eerie seeing Fernandina’s historic courthouse on Centre Street with boarded windows (pictured above). Amelia Island’s Walmart had pallets wrapped in plastic blocking entry doors and Moon River Pizza was boarded up, pictured below, just a few scenes around Fernandina Beach.

Nassau County supplied bags and sand to local residents, dumping piles at self-serve locations. (Pictured below, at Dee Dee Bartels boat ramp in Fernandina Beach.)

PREPARING FOR DORIAN: Do-it-yourself sandbags, sand pile at Dee Dee Bartels boat ramp, Fernandina Beach (August 30, 2019).
PREPARING FOR DORIAN: Do-it-yourself sandbags at Dee Dee Bartels boat ramp, Fernandina Beach (photo August 30, 2019).

Piles of sand were also dumped to block some of Amelia Island’s beach entrances in anticipation of high waves, an attempt to slow flooding.

Hurricane Dorian Satellite Image September 4, 2019 Off Florida
Dorian Satellite Image 9-4-2019 Off Florida & Southeast Georgia

Some climbed the piles of sand blocking beach entrances to take a look at the high surf and churning sea. Pictured below, a couple at Peters Point, Sept. 2, 2019, two days before Dorian.

Hurricane Dorian preparation -- Nassau County dumped sand piles to block beach entries, Sept. 2019 (Peters Point Park).
Hurricane Dorian preparation — Nassau County dumped sand piles to block beach entries, Sept. 2019 (Peters Point)
Hurricane Dorian preparation -- sand pile blocks American Beach's Lewis Street (Sept. 2019).
Hurricane Dorian preparation — sand pile blocks Lewis Street beach entrance, American Beach (Sept. 2019)

The mandatory evacuation of Amelia Island for Hurricane Dorian began on LABOR DAY, Monday, September 2, 2019 at 8 am.

“Hurricane Dorian was the strongest and most destructive storm of the 2019 hurricane season,” according to NOAA’s National Weather Service. It made landfall in the Bahamas causing catastrophic damage as a CAT 5. On Sunday night, Sept. 1, 2019 (three days before Dorian’s expected arrival here in northeast Florida), the forecast track had been an expectation for Dorian to pass by the Jacksonville area about 60 to 70 miles off the east coast as a CAT 3. By the time the hurricane left our area, the entire state of Florida had been lucky with hurricane force winds remaining offshore and no major damage.

National Hurricane Center Seasonal Update (Late August 2022)

See what the acting director of the National Hurricane Center, Jamie Rhome, had to say about the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season, as discussed on August 25, 2022 (watch NHC’s YouTube channel video).

There are 18 names yet unused on the predetermined list for the Atlantic hurricane season 2022 as of August 31st. The next three named storms are to be called “Danielle, Earl and Fiona.”

A senior meteorologist at The Weather Channel put it well:

“It only takes one hurricane strike to turn what was a quiet start to the season into one you’ll never forget.”

Jonathan Erdman, The Weather Channel (August 27, 2022)
Hurricane Preparedness — Local Guidance

Plenty of newcomers have moved to Nassau County, Florida in the last few years. There are eleven Nassau evacuation zones, letters A through J. Amelia Island’s evacuation zoning has changed since the last mandatory evacuation for Dorian.

Nassau County, Florida evacuation zone map including Amelia Island.
Nassau County, Florida Evacuation Zone Map (NassauOne Emergency Mgmt.)

Back in 2019, the entire island had been zone A. Amelia Island now has three evacuation zones A, B, and C. The Nassau County Appraiser’s website has an interactive map where residents can enter their exact address to find their zone.

Be sure to follow hurricane preparedness guidance issued by authorities. For more information, visit the Fernandina Beach government website hurricane preparedness section. Also visit the Nassau County, Florida Emergency Management website. Sign up for Nassau County’s emergency alerts send via text to mobile phones. On social media, follow the most timely updates at city and county Facebook pages.

Nassau County Emergency Shelters

When an evacuation order is announced, Nassau County may also open shelters (all are pet-friendly), but the county advises shelters “should be the last choice of refuge.” Also note that those with special medical needs should register in advance.

More About Matthew, Amelia Island Impacts

For all the newcomers who’ve moved to Nassau County in recent years, it was Matthew (October 7, 2016), that caused severe damage to the Fernandina Beach Harbor Marina. Rebuilding the infrastructure and bringing the marina back to full operation took years. There was no fuel available for boaters for a lengthy four and a half years (gas pumps were not back in service until May 2021). The lack of fuel sales was a huge loss of revenue for the river city.

Damaged fuel dock, Fernandina Harbor Marina (file photos)

Matthew also damaged the Fort Clinch State Park pier on Amelia Island’s north end. It had been Florida’s longest ocean pier at 2,409 feet long. A state-level decision was made to remove the Fort Clinch pier rather than fix it. To date, the pier has not been replaced.

Debris On The Beaches

One of the eye-opening aspects of Matthew was what happened in the weeks after the hurricane. An enormous amount of marine debris washed up on Amelia Island’s beaches. More and more came in with the changing tides for weeks. One never knew what would be found at the seashore, including lumber and other construction materials. Lots of wreckage from destroyed docks and contents of homes (including furniture or pieces of it) came ashore. Heavy machinery was required to remove some of what washed up. Tons of natural debris also landed on the beachfront, including tree trunks and heaps of dead marsh grass that piled up along the shoreline.

Apart from the beach, tropical storms damage many trees. Some are uprooted or large limbs come down across the island and on the mainland. The sound of chain saws and wood chippers is heard for weeks. These storms create a massive quantity of residential yard debris that may sit for from weeks to months, before being carted away. For some storms, outsourced contractors are hired by the city and county.

Hurricane Dora, September 1964 Makes Landfall in Northeast Florida

Going back further in time is a storm imprinted forever in the minds of those who experienced Dora, the only hurricane of the past century that was a direct hit in the First Coast area. Dora made landfall in northeast Florida’s St. Augustine, America’s oldest city, on September 10, 1964 as a CAT 2. Described as “the storm that brought the First Coast to its knees,” in the documentary video below, hear firsthand stories of Dora and see old film footage and images. It was a hurricane that brought U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson to the Jacksonville area to view the devastation.

Category 2 Hurricane Dora made landfall in northeast Florida in St. Augustine

The 1898 Georgia Hurricane

Reaching back even further in history, the strongest, most damaging hurricane impacting the city of Fernandina appears to be the hurricane of 1898. In modern times, hurricane experts have completed a re-analysis of historic data from hurricanes of long ago. The October hurricane of 1898 was designated a CAT 4 hurricane that made landfall on our next-door neighbor, Cumberland Island, GA with estimated winds of 135 MPH. The hurricane also brought massive storm surge. With Amelia Island’s close proximity to the bull’s-eye, historic newspaper reports describe downtown Fernandina as being destroyed. One example, Fernandina’s “old” train depot at the foot of Centre Street is circa 1899 because its predecessor was destroyed in the 1898 hurricane.

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