Category 3 Hurricane Edouard on Tuesday morning. Edouard is the first major hurricane since Sandy in 2012. (Brian McNoldy)

For the first time in almost two years, a major hurricane — category 3 or greater — has formed in the Atlantic Ocean.

Hurricane Edouard’s peak winds strengthened to 115 mph as of Tuesday morning, achieving category 3 intensity.  It is the first hurricane in the Atlantic to attain such strength since Sandy on October 25, 2012 — 691 days ago — when it slammed into Cuba (before its devastating encounter with the Northeast U.S.).

The storm is forecast by the National Hurricane Center to maintain this intensity for another day or so before  steadily weakening as it moves over cooler waters.  The storm is no threat to land.

Incredibly, it has been 3,249 days since the last major hurricane, Wilma in October of 2005, has struck the U.S. coast.  Sandy — despite its massive size and power — was not classified as a hurricane when it made landfall, but a hybrid mid-latitude-tropical storm or “post-tropical cyclone.”

Although it may seem like it’s been a quiet year for storms in the tropical Atlantic, Edouard became the season’s 5th tropical storm right on schedule, according to Capital Weather Gang’s tropical weather expert Brian McNoldy.  McNoldy points out Edouard formed on September 11, which is about average for the 5th-named storm in the Atlantic.  It actually became the Atlantic’s fourth hurricane well ahead of schedule – which is typically around September 28, McNoldy wrote on his blog.


Infrared satellite image of Hurricane Edouard on Tuesday afternoon. (NOAA)

While 2014 is averaging near normal in terms of the number of storms, another measure of tropical activity — which takes into account storm intensity and duration, known as accumulated cyclone energy (ACE) — is just 50 percent of normal so far this hurricane season in the Atlantic. Though they weren’t particularly strong, Hurricane’s Bertha and Cristobal have accumulated the largest cyclone energy for the season due to their long-lived tracks. Edouard’s strong intensity will increase the Atlantic’s ACE as it tracks northeast this week.

Contrast the low Atlantic activity to the eastern Pacific, which is running 150 percent of normal in ACE. The eastern Pacific has seen 16 named storms so far in 2014, 11 of which became hurricanes, and eight of those were major hurricnes. The most recent east Pacific major hurricane was Odile, which is now a tropical storm surging into the Southwest U.S.

The eastern Pacific hurricane season got off to a strong start in June, as two major hurricanes broke records for the basin. “With hurricanes Amanda and Cristina reaching category 4 status, this is the first time there have been two category 4 hurricanes through June in the eastern North Pacific basin since the beginning of the satellite era in 1966,” the National Hurricane Center wrote. “Prior to Cristina, the earliest second category 4 hurricane was Hurricane Elida in 1984, which reached that threshold on July 1.”