The record-breaking 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is officially over, with the Cayman Islands making it through another year largely unscathed.
This year, the Atlantic basin experienced 31 tropical and subtropical depressions (tying the previous record which was set in 2005) while setting the record with 30 named storms. Of those 30 storms, 13 developed into hurricanes, six of which became major hurricanes.
This graphic shows the paths of weather systems in the 2020 hurricane season.
Hurricane season ‘officially’ runs from 1 June to 30 Nov.
Initial forecasts from Colorado State University in April called for 20 named storms, nine hurricanes, and four major hurricanes. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted 13 to 19 named storms, six to 10 hurricanes, and three to six major hurricanes.
Both of those predictions were later revised upwards.
This year marked the second season in recorded history where forecasters ran through pre-approved storm names and were forced to utilise the Greek alphabet. The previous record of most named storms occurred in 2005.
“This unprecedented activity has been fuelled by an ongoing La Niña,” said Cayman Islands National Weather Service Director General John Tibbetts. “It has been the fifth consecutive above-average season, from 2016 onward, and the first extremely active season since 2017.”
La Niña is a weather phenomenon that helps to strengthen conditions for the development of storm activity in the Atlantic Ocean.
Although Cayman was not directly hit by a hurricane, Tibbetts said the islands saw their fair share of storm activity.
“The 2020 hurricane season was also very active for the Cayman Islands, with direct impacts from six systems,” said Tibbetts. “The six systems are divided into two sets: higher-level impacts, including Tropical Storm Laura, Hurricane Delta and Tropical Storm Eta; [and] lower-level impacts, including Tropical Storm Marco, Tropical Storm Nana and Hurricane Zeta.”
Tropical depression 14 was the first storm to impact the Cayman Islands, passing within 190 nautical miles southwest of Grand Cayman on 20 Aug. The system generated less than an inch of rainfall, but would go on to develop into Tropical Storm Marco.
Three days later, a tropical storm warning was issued for the Sister Islands as Laura passed 71 nautical miles of Cayman Brac’s north coast.
“Cayman Brac reported only minimal impacts while in Grand Cayman a number of boats broke moorings and were washed up on Seven Mile Beach,” Tibbetts recalled.
On 2 Sept., Tropical Storm Nana dumped just about an inch of rainfall on Cayman as it passed 130 nautical miles south of Grand Cayman.
The next storm was Hurricane Delta which tracked closer to Cayman but still missed the islands by 93 miles. It passed off the southwest coast of Grand Cayman, but still poured 1.6 inches of rainfall locally.
“Delta produced forecast tracking problems for the weather service as the system was forecast to move northwest across the Cayman Islands from its formation,” Tibbetts said.
“Delta instead drifted southwest for over 24 hours before starting a turn to the northwest. By the time it completed its drift, the forecast shifted from having the system pass east of Grand Cayman to the system passing west of Grand Cayman.”
Then, on 24 Oct. Hurricane Zeta stirred up rough seas across Grand Cayman as it passed 113 miles southwest of the island, with 1.7 inches of rainfall recorded along with wave heights of 5 to 7 feet.
The final, and most powerful, storm to affect Cayman this hurricane season was Tropical Storm Eta. After ravaging Honduras and Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane, Eta weakened as it approached Cayman.
Eta made landfall on Grand Cayman on 7 Nov. with winds of up to 70 mph and dumping 9.87 inches of rain. The storm caused localised flooding across Grand Cayman, downed power lines and uprooted trees, before moving on to Cuba.
However, although the season is officially over, weather conditions still remain favourable for further storm development.