Tropical Storm Wanda may be the last gasp for hurricane season

·5 min read

With less than a month to go before the end of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season, the development of Wanda marks the end of the tropical name list, but will it be the last of the season?

Unlike during the 2020 season, the basin slowed down during 2021 as autumn arrived. Tropical Storm Victor had dissipated during early October, and the Atlantic would remain quiet until the end of the month when Wanda was named. As of Sunday morning, Wanda continues moving to the northeast from it's previous staggered, bizarre track as a tropical storm with current maximum sustained winds of 40 mph and a forward speed of 14 mph.

At this time last year, the Atlantic basin was seeing its 28th named storm of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season -- Hurricane Eta -- rapidly strengthen into the season's fourth Category 4 hurricane on Nov. 3, 2020. Wanda is the 21st named storm of the 2021 Atlantic season -- meaning this season is seven named storms behind the 2020 season's pacing.

At its strongest, Hurricane Eta had maximum sustained winds of 150 mph and a central pressure of 27.23 inches of mercury (922 mb), making it the third-most-intense November hurricane on record for the Atlantic basin behind the 1932 Cuba hurricane and Hurricane Iota. The latter was named two weeks later, on Nov. 13, and would intensify into a Category 4 hurricane with maximum wind speeds of 155 mph and a central pressure of 27.08 (917 mb).

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Hurricane Eta passed just north of the San Andrés Island of the archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina, sparing it from a direct hit. However, the wind and floodwaters were still enough to lead to two injuries and destroy several structures. Later, Hurricane Iota would sideswipe the island as a Category 5 hurricane.

Eta loomed off the shore of Nicaragua before making landfall near Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, as a Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 140 mph.

Over 150 deaths were attributed to the storm, with at least 25 deaths from a landslide triggered by the heavy rainfall from the hurricane. Two areas in Guatemala -- Coban and Puerto Barrios -- recorded over a foot of rainfall with gauges maxing out at 16.1 inches. As the hurricane traveled northward through Honduras, it dumped another 20 inches of rainfall in the locations that were hit the hardest, including the coastal town of Tela, which saw roughly 28 inches of rain.

Fast-forwarding back to the 2021 season, the Atlantic seems relatively quiet other than the blip in the Atlantic. While it's not expected to impact land in the future, the system had a unique origin as a nor'easter that had slammed the mid-Atlantic and New England during late October before drifting out to sea.

While it had been considered subtropical for the first few days of its named life before transitioning into a tropical storm, Wanda managed to sustain its strength long enough to rank as seventh in terms of Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE) this hurricane season. The ACE of a tropical system is based off the time the storm spent at or above tropical storm status and maximum sustained wind speed, allowing meteorologists to gauge how intense a hurricane season was.

Wanda has an ACE of 5.7 compared to Hurricane Ida's ACE of 10.8. While Ida had been powerful, it had only been a named storm for a little less than seven days. Additionally, Ida had only reached the level of a major hurricane for a single day. Hurricane Sam, however, which was also a Category 4 hurricane, saw an ACE of 53.8 after maintaining hurricane strength for 11 out of its 12 days as a named storm. It spent over seven of those days as a major hurricane. The collective ACE of the season is 145.0 compared to the 30-year average from 1991 to 2020 of 116.4. The 2020 Atlantic season saw a collective ACE of 179.8.

People help each other wade through a flooded street in the aftermath of Hurricane Eta in Jerusalen, Honduras, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020. The storm that hit Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane on Tuesday, Nov. 3, had become more of a vast tropical rainstorm, but it was advancing so slowly and dumping so much rain that much of Central America remained on high alert. (AP Photo/Delmer Martinez)

It's not likely that the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season's ACE index will catch up to the one from 2020, but it's not entirely unlikely that another storm might add to the season's ACE index. With the Atlantic hurricane season officially ending on Nov. 30, there's still too much time to call the season.

"It's not a guarantee Wanda will be the last storm in the Atlantic," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Rob Miller said. "While nothing imminent is likely, we still do have the rest of the month for hurricane season."

If another storm forms, the National Hurricane Center will circle back to the top of the alphabet with a new list of names rather than naming storms after Greek letters.

There have only been two other W storms in the recorded history of the basin -- Tropical Storm Wilfred from 2020 and Hurricane Wilma of 2005.

Wilfred was named on Sept. 17, 2020, a good two weeks before Hurricane Eta would gain hurricane strength and slam into Nicaragua. It also beat Wilma as the earliest-formed, W-named storm.

On Oct. 22, 2005, Wilma was named and was a Category 5 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 185 mph at its strongest and made landfall across Florida as a Category 3 hurricane. With over 50 deaths attributed to the storm, it remains the only W-named tropical system to have been retired.

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