As the 2023 Atlantic hurricane season heats up with tropical activity, the wrath of the 2022 season can still be felt across many of the hardest-hit communities. The 2022 season showcased the strength that tropical cyclones can pack and tested the resilience of coastal regions from the Caribbean to the United States and Canada.
Here’s a look back at how the 2022 season played out.
Within the first month of the 2022 season, ideal weather conditions made a favorable environment for tropical storms to develop. By July 2, there were already three named storms: Alex, Bonnie and Colin.
“The early-season development was a result of having very warm water and a favorable upper-level wind pattern for a few weeks,” said AccuWeather Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski. “The La Niña pattern was weakening, but there was still enough of a signal in the atmosphere to favor regions of low shear across key areas of the Atlantic basin, where early-season development is most common.”
But then, an unusual calm settled across the Atlantic. From July 2 to Sept. 1, there were no named storms. This was the first year since 1941 in which no named storms formed during that time period. It was also the first year since 1997 with no named storms in August, which according to Kottlowski, is typically an active time for the tropics.
“When we look back at the overall weather pattern, a large area of dry, stable air covered a good part of the eastern and east-central Atlantic during July 2022 and August 2022,” said Kottlowski. “Along with this dry, stable air, a very unfavorable upper-level wind pattern set up from just north of the northeast Caribbean eastward to just off the Iberian coast.”
When the calendar flipped from August to September, it was as if a light switch was turned on. In September, tropical activity ramped up. This was due to two areas of high pressure breaking down, which led to a more favorable pattern for tropical development across the Atlantic. There were seven named storms during the month, including Fiona and Ian, which both reached major hurricane strength or Category 3 or stronger.
Tropical activity then slowed down in October. In November, the return of La Niña promoted “more favorable conditions for tropical storm[s] and hurricane development,” according to Kottlowski, and three late-season storms formed during the final 30 days of the hurricane season.
In total, the 2022 season produced 14 named storms, of which eight became hurricanes and two intensified into major hurricanes. The season as a whole was defined by Fiona, Ian and Nicole. Fiona was the first major hurricane of the year, while Ian became one of the deadliest hurricanes on record. Nicole was a rare November hurricane that wreaked havoc on Florida’s east coast.
Fiona formed in the Atlantic Ocean on Sept. 14, and four days later, it became the third hurricane of the season. Within hours of strengthening into a Category 1 hurricane, Fiona made landfall on the extreme southwestern coast of Puerto Rico, near Punta Tocon, which is a cape on the southwestern portion of the island.
Hurricane Fiona packed gusty winds and heavy rains as it made landfall in Puerto Rico. Fiona created an island-wide crisis as the fragile power grid in Puerto Rico went completely out of service. Millions of residents were left in the dark.
“The height of the storm was intense. Howling winds and driving rain. The wind sounded like a freight train,” Ryan Gorman, a 40-year-old who lives in San Juan with his wife and young son told AccuWeather in 2022.
According to Gorman, the southwestern coast of Puerto Rico took the brunt of the damage. Rainfall totals topped 2 feet (0.61 m) in this area and infrastructure, such as bridges and water filtration plants, crumbled during the height of the storm.
Gorman described what happened to the southwestern coast of Puerto Rico as “heartbreaking.”
Roughly 12 hours after its first landfall, Hurricane Fiona made a second landfall in the Dominican Republic, roughly 20 miles south of Punta Cana.
As Fiona remerged over the Caribbean, the warm ocean waters and low wind shear environment were favorable to allow the storm to strengthen. By Sept. 20, Fiona became the first major hurricane of the season when it reached Category 3 strength. And it didn’t stop there. The storm grew more powerful, intensifying into a Category 4 hurricane on Sept. 21.
But as the storm tracked northward, it lost wind intensity and its tropical characteristics. Fiona was dubbed a subtropical storm by Sept. 23. However, regardless of the new designation Fiona held as it neared Atlantic Canada, AccuWeather forecasters warned that residents should be prepared for the life-threatening dangers Fiona was forecast to pack.
During the early morning hours of Sept. 24, Fiona made landfall as a subtropical storm along Nova Scotia’s Canso Peninsula. The storm, which went down in history as one of the most intense weather systems to ever impact the country, unleashed life-threatening flooding and hurricane-force winds.
“The pressure at which Fiona made landfall over northeastern Nova Scotia was the lowest pressure ever recorded for a landfilling hurricane,” said Kottlowski. “The damage created by the wind was one of the worst natural disasters in Canadian history.”
The storm’s central pressure bottomed out at 27.55 inches of mercury (933 millibars), which set a new all-time record for Canada, breaking the old record of 27.76 inches of mercury (940.2 millibars).
A storm surge of over 9 feet (2.74 m) led to massive damage over far southwestern Newfoundland in the Port-au-Basque area. Heavy rainfall and intense wind gusts over 100 mph in several locations uprooted trees, snapped limbs and caused thousands of power outages.
In total, Fiona was responsible for 29 direct and indirect fatalities, along with $3 billion in damages across the Caribbean and Canada.
Hurricane Ian formed in the central Caribbean Sea on Sept. 24. Shortly after Ian was officially named, AccuWeather meteorologists recognized it as a possible threat to the U.S. Forecasters warned residents along the Gulf Coast that they should prepare for a strong hurricane to make landfall within the coming days.
Hurricane Ian underwent rapid intensification and turned into a major Category 3 hurricane. Ian made its first landfall in Cuba’s Pinar del Rio province, packing winds upwards of 125 mph, which is just 4 mph short of a Category 4 force. It brought destructive winds, coastal flooding and heavy rainfall to the western half of the island.
The storm cut power to all customers in the Pinar del Rio Province, which has a population of 850,000, and quickly spread to create a blackout across the entire nation.
As the storm tracked across Cuba’s hilly terrain and lost intensity temporarily, forecasters warned it was about to reenter the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, where it would likely strengthen again.
And that’s exactly what it did. According to a post-storm analysis from the National Hurricane Center (NHC), meteorologists found that the peak winds in the eyewall of Hurricane Ian reached 160 mph (140 knots), which met the criteria of a Category 5 hurricane.
Ian did not remain a Category 5 storm for long, though. The hurricane lost wind intensity right as it neared Florida’s west coast. Nonetheless, Ian was still a powerful storm as it approached the state.
Less than 24 hours after leaving Cuba, Ian made its second landfall — and first U.S. landfall — on the barrier island of Cayo Costa, Florida, at 3:05 p.m. on Sept. 28, with maximum sustained winds of 150 mph. At this level, Ian ranks as the fourth-strongest landfalling hurricane in the state’s history.
The highest wind gust was in Grove City, Florida. A 128-mph reading was measured by a WeatherFlow weather station there. Other areas recording gusts over 120 mph included an NOAA station on Captiva Island at Redfish Pass and the Punta Gorda Airport.
Storm surge damage was catastrophic on Captiva Island, Sanibel Island, Pine Island and Fort Myers Beach. The National Weather Service sent damage survey teams to Fort Myers, Florida, to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the damage caused by Ian. The highest water level found by the team as of November 2022 was 15 feet (4.57 m) above the average high water level.
Jeff Evans of the NWS office in Houston was one of the people who helped to conduct the damage surveys along Florida’s Gulf Coast. He described the storm surge as a “tsunami.” At 15 feet (4.57 m) , the storm surge completely inundated all of Sanibel Island, which is a barrier island just west of Fort Myers.
“The maximum storm surge of 15 feet (4.57 m) is the highest recorded in modern history for Florida,” said Kottlowski. “A combination of the hurricane’s size, intensity, slow forward movement, about 9 mph, and the bathymetry all contributed to the deadly storm surge.”
Bathymetry is the measurement of the depth of water in oceans. Kottlowski attributes the record storm surge to the “shallowness of the continental shelf” near this part of Florida.
As Ian tracked across Florida, it dumped more than 2 feet (0.61 m) of rain across the Sunshine State. More than a dozen USGS river gauges across Florida exceeded the major flood stage with many of them setting new records.
The highest rainfall total was recorded by an NOAA observer in Titusville, Florida, located about 35 miles east of Orlando. The observer’s rain gauge recorded a staggering 26.42 inches of rain from Ian.
Ian weakened to a tropical storm as its center moved across the south-central east coast of Florida, but its destruction was far from over. Ian restrengthened into a hurricane and charted a course for the South Carolina coast less than 10 hours after moving back over the Atlantic.
Ian made its third overall — and second U.S. — landfall southeast of Georgetown, South Carolina, with winds exceeding 85 mph. Georgia and both South and North Carolina all reported destructive storm surges from Ian. The storm knocked out power to more than 600,000 customers across the Carolinas.
In total, Ian claimed the lives of 152 people, according to a tally from NOAA. At least 149 deaths were reported in Florida alone. The ferocious storm went down as the deadliest hurricane in Florida’s state history since the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane, which killed more than 400 people.
During the final month of the Atlantic hurricane season, hurricanes typically occur south of Florida, according to Kottlowski. But the transition back to a La Niña weather pattern — which is more favorable for tropical storm and hurricane development — made the Atlantic a brewing ground for tropical systems. During November, three named storms formed, including Lisa, Martin and Nicole.
Hurricane Nicole, the only one out of those three that made landfall in the U.S., had a “very unusual start,” according to Kottlowski.
“It started out as a subtropical storm, became a full-fledged tropical storm then intensified into a hurricane just before hitting the east central coast of Florida, north of Vero Beach,” said Kottlowski. “Nicole was a very rare November hurricane for Florida, only the third to make landfall on the Sunshine State [during November].”
Hurricane Nicole made landfall on Florida’s west coast on Nov. 11 as a Category 1 Hurricane. Nicole’s landfall came just over a month after Hurricane Ian wreaked havoc on Florida’s southwest coast. Exasperated, hurricane-weary Floridians were still recovering from the damage wrought by Ian just six weeks prior. Residents had little time to mitigate the damage from the previous disaster before Nicole struck.
Nicole brought destructive winds, rough waves and a storm surge that reached far past the beaches along Florida’s Atlantic coast.
“The structural damage along our coastline is unprecedented,” Volusia County Manager George Recktenwald said during a press briefing in November. “We have never experienced anything like this before.”
Entire backyards were washed away, beaches were eroded and more than four dozen homes were deemed unsafe by the county and municipal building inspectors in Volusia County.
Nicole continued to track across Florida and briefly reemerged in the Gulf of Mexico before making a second, and final, landfall as a weakening tropical storm over the easternmost Florida Panhandle.
In total, five fatalities were associated with this storm.
Produced in association with AccuWeather