First, let me just start by saying that I am not a professional weather person, I'm just someone who is very much perplexed by several discrepancies, particularly in the past few years, regarding hurricane intensities and classifications.
I believe the alleged "increase" in hurricane numbers and intensity is largely related to two things.
1) Meteorological cycles
A known cycle that lasts approximately thirty years. This is pretty basic general knowledge among professional weather people and just avid observers like myself. There is a cycle where, for about 15 years they have fewer storms on average, then for about 15 years they have more storms on average. However, the specific cycle does not forbid very destructive storms even during the "down phase", as Andrew happened during a down cycle.
2) Observer effect.
That is, today the human population is higher along the coasts, so when a storm hits, the damage is greater and there are more observers with far, far better cameras. This gives a false impression that a storm is the "worst ever" to hit that region, even though the storm may actually not even be close to the most powerful ever to hit that region. Everyone has a video camera now, so virtually ever detail gets documented. 40 years ago for Betsy or Camille, almost nobody had video cameras, and very, very few people even had still photography, so documentation was limited to audio reports and hand written accounts.
Now I would like to address some of those discrepancies that I started noticing during the 2005 season and particularly ever since.
The recent landfall of Dolly will illustrate this point.
Dolly was officially a category 2 storm with sustained winds of 100MPH when it made landfall. However, not even one GUST that was reported by a ground observer made it to 100MPH as far as I know. If it did, nobody reported it.
Weather man Jim Cantore was on South Padre island, basicly directly in the left front quadrant of the eye wall, and even he never reported so much as a Gust of 100MPH, much less sustained winds. As a matter of fact, he never even reported a SUSTAINED WIND of even hurricane force, at least not that I saw, and I watched almost every update.
What is going on here? Nobody even measured a category 1 force sustained wind at surface level, much less a category 2 force sustained wind.
I believe what is happening is they UNDER classified several storms in 2005, and now they are over classifying storms for fear of repeating their mistakes.
I live in the Florida Parishes in south east Louisiana. Where I live, we were on like the second or third rainband OUT from the western eye wall of Katrina, well over 100 miles from the "weak" side eye wall, and we had multiple trees blown down on my brother's property, and multiple trees blown down on virtually everyone's property in the area. many of the trees that were not blown down, particularly hard woods, and those exposed on the edge of the forest at cut overs or roads, were literally stripped of most of their foliage. There were multiple trees downed on EVERY road in the area, and it took about the first day before you could drive more than a half mile without hitting a downed tree.
We also had roofs peel worse than the strong side Eye Wall of Dolly. Multiple houses still had tarps on their roofs for months or even a year later, in many cases even to the west of us. The power was out for us for two days. Officially, the wind never got above about 75MPH for our area during Katrina, yet the damage was consistently in the range of a direct hit from a Category 2 eyewall throughout this part of the region.
It so happened that I was outside during the time that most of the trees came down during Katrina. I had been outside just watching the way the wind blew the water vertically and also in horizontal spirals, really quite amazing and beautiful, and I noticed the ditch across the road was stopped up, so during a calm period I walked down the street and begane unstopping the culvert there. About this time, the strongest rainband began to move in, and the metal roof on one of my grandparents old sheds began to peel, so I hightailed it out of there. At this time, none of the trees in my brother's place were yet blown down.
By the time I made it back to my drive way, the wind was so strong that I had to hold on to something to keep from being blown back into the street, and the water was being blown off the tops of the ditches, which by now were over filled.
AFter this, there was a calm for about 30 seconds to a minute, then it picked up again. During the calm I went around the house and was about to go inside, so that when the wind picked up again I started hearing the pine trees snap in the forest about 800 ft behind our house. This was when the wind was shifting to come out of the west, since the eyewall was already just north of due easy from us by then. Not all of the trees came down, just the weaker, or more exposed ones along the cut overs. I did not yet realize what was going on at my brother's place, where I had just been a few minutes earlier. About an hour later, we would walk down there and see all but one tree uprooted or snapped off. All of this was caused by "straight line" winds, because we could tell almost all of the trees fell within a few degrees of the same direction. Towards the south or east, as the winds were coming from the north most of the day, and then coming from the west as the eyewall passed. Totally normal wind behavior for a hurricane. This was not an isolated tornado. I've been those too.
Again, the closest approach of the eyewall to this area was at least 100 miles, and Katrani would have already Officially been downgraded to a 3 at this time.
Officially, Katrina was a Category 4 on its landfall in louisiana, and a Category 3 on its landfall in mississippi. Yet the official water level rise for Katrina was even worse than Camille, 26-28ft, and some unofficial reports had water level rises of as high as 40 ft for some isolated areas near Waveland, at the time of the SECOND landfall. This SECOND landfall storm surge is WELL into the category 5 range, not the category 3 range, and it is actually the highest surge ever reported in the US, and very nearly the highest ever reported in the world, a few in Australia have been worse.
Tornado reports in the 60's.
Hurricane Beulah is said to have had 115 official reports of tornados. From my experience with Katrina and also a small isolated tornado a few years earlier, I can say that during a major hurricane it is possible to mistake the sheer power of hurricane winds for a tornado, even a long way out from the center. Given the fact that, in the 60's, there weren't nearly as many cameras, the documentation of these events would have been very poor. Many of the "Tornado" reports were probably just straight line "hurricane" damage with tornado-like destruction.
Hurricane Andrew vs the "Forgotten Hurricane"
How is it that the so-called "Forgotten Hurricane" caused an INLAND storm surge that killed over a thousand people, when population was much lower; The inland storm surge from this storm was so high that entire houses floated away and people were clinging to boards for several hours trying to survive. Yet the "forgotten hurricane" is classified as a category 4, while Andrew is classified as a category 5 and caused no such surge?
Andrew may have caused more damage "on paper" due to inflation and due to population density, but logically it cannot possibly have been as powerful as the "forgotten hurricane". It did not take the exact same path, but the point is, if it had been anywhere near as powerful of a storm, there would have been a BIBLICAL proportion storm surge on the east coast of florida and entire cities would have been under water.
Andrew was not even classified as a category 5 until several years after the fact, which also seems very much artificial, and even then it is a matter of a few miles per hour difference. As I recall, the highest recorded gust in Andrew was reported, years after the fact, as 185 miles per hour. In contrast, Katrina officially had sustained winds of 180 MPH at about the time it topped out.
Finally, I was also in the "Strong" side of hurricane Andrew when it hit Louisiana, officially as a category 3, and believe me when I say the "Strong" side of Andrew was NOTHING compared to the "Weak" side of Katrina. Absolutely nothing, and Andrew passed much closer to us than Katrina did. Yet both were said to be officially Category 3 storms at their closest approaches to our house. Andrew downed like, a couple dozen trees in the entire region. Katrina downed a couple dozen trees per acre in the region.
So this is a vast inconsistency in classification even within my own life time, in a period of less than 15 years.
Wilma vs Gilbert vs Labor Day Hurricane
The lowest pressure measurement for the Labor Day Hurricane was taken over land, implying that the storm was possibly even more powerful over open water.
The lowest pressure measurement for Wilma and Gilbert is not even a measurement, but an estimate, and was taken over open water.
This means that the Labor Day hurricane hit land at about the same strength that Wilma or Gilbert topped out over open water: SUSTAINED surface winds in the 190-200 MPH range.
Ironically, some officially "unusable" measurements from Camille put its surface winds at greater than 200MPH, but in at least one of those cases the wind broke the Anomometer, so it is not usable. Yet Camille's lowest pressure reading is not even as low as Katrina or Rita, and Wilma, Giblert, and the Labor Day storm are some 20 millibars lower, plus or minus error.
Anyway, the point of all of this is inconsistencies in data and relative destructive power.
Several of the storms from 1900 -1970 HAD to be at least as powerful as Andrew upon landfall to produce the known level of destruction or storm surge, at times even far inland, yet they are classified one to three categories lower in many cases.
The 2005 season IS the worst in the Satellite era, of this I think we can all agree, however, it probably is only about a once every 30-60 year season, nothing worse.
The Weather channel reports that the 2005 season broke 18 records for storm numbers and strengths, but again, this is an unfair statement because they are comparing the satellite era to the pre-satellite era.
Whos to say there weren't 30 storms in one year during the medieval warm period? And who's to say 5 or more of them weren't category 5? See what I mean?
To me, there are just too many holes in data from the pre-satellite and pre-infrared era to make a fair comparison, and in some cases there are too many holes even in our modern data to take it too seriously.
Given cases such as the forgotten hurricane and the Labor Day hurricane, it seems to me highly unlikely that the average hurricane now is any stronger than it ever has been, and it seems equally unlikely that the strongest storms now are any stronger than the strongest storms in the past.
People just have video cameras and cell phone cameras now to give better pictures and recordings of it all, and there are more homes and businesses to be destroye, so they think its worse now than it was then.