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Miami Grand Prix: May Date Avoids Peak Hurricane Season

Formula 1’s upcoming Miami Grand Prix takes place in the United States’ most hurricane-prone city. Here, we look at the tropical cyclone risk in South Florida, and why the decision to race in May avoids the peak of the North Atlantic hurricane season.

Following years of speculation over plans to add a second race in the United States, the inaugural Miami Grand Prix takes place on 6–8 May in a newly constructed circuit in the Miami Gardens area of the city. The Florida race joins its Texan counterpart in Austin on the Formula 1 calendar and becomes the 11th different American venue to host a round of the world championship. 

 The 5.41 kilometre 19-turn Miami International Autodrome is a temporary modern street circuit situated in the Hard Rock Stadium complex around 20 kilometres north of downtown Miami. The complex also boasts the Hard Rock Stadium, home to the Miami Dolphins NFL franchise, and tennis courts that host the Miami Open ATP Tour event.

Hurricane Risk in South Florida

Miami is well known as a major centre and leader in finance, commerce, culture, arts, international trade, and tourism. It is also known for its severe weather, most notably its hurricane risk. Located at the base of a peninsular situated between two warm tropical oceanic water bodies, South Florida is one of the world’s most prone areas to tropical cyclones.

Hurricane Dorian located off the coast of Florida in 2019

A tropical cyclone is a generic term for an area of low pressure situated over tropical or subtropical waters that has organised convection (i.e., thunderstorm activity) and winds at the surface that circulate in either an anti-clockwise motion (in the northern hemisphere) or clockwise motion (in the southern hemisphere). Tropical cyclones can be hundreds of kilometres wide and travel at forward speeds of up to 50 km/hr. In the North Atlantic, they are known as hurricanes, tropical storms, or tropical depressions, depending on their maximum wind intensity, and are given a name from a pre-determined list at the start of the year (e.g., Hurricane Alex).

In the North Atlantic basin, the annual hurricane season officially runs from 1 June to 30 November, though this is just an arbitrary date range that covers approximately 96 percent of historical activity; tropical storms and hurricanes can form at any time of year given the right meteorological conditions. The number and intensity of storms in the basin typically peak in a period that spans from late August to the end of October.

Between 1991 and 2020, North Atlantic hurricane seasons averaged 14 tropical storms, with 7 of those becoming hurricanes, and 3 of those becoming major hurricanes (categories 3–5 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale).

Hurricanes can be extremely devastating and costly if they make landfall; their high winds can damage property and infrastructure, heavy rain can cause flash flooding well inland, and the associated storm surge can cause widespread coastal flooding.

Formula 1 is no stranger to the threat of tropical cyclones with the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka often threatened by typhoons (typhoon is the equivalent name given to hurricanes in the Western North Pacific). Over the years, several practice and qualifying sessions have had to be delayed or postponed due to the torrential rainfall as was seen in 2019 when organisers cancelled all of Saturday’s running due to Typhoon Hagibis — stay tuned for another blog on typhoons in Japan later in the year.

May Date Avoids Hurricane Season

It had widely been speculated that a second race in the United States would be run in mid-June as part of a North American double-header with the Canadian Grand Prix to save on travel costs, akin to the schedule that ran between 2004 and 2007 when Montreal and Indianapolis hosted races in consecutive weekends.

When Miami emerged as the frontrunner to host a second race, plans to run the event in the height of summer or back-to-back with Austin in the autumn were shelved. Organisers ruled out the summer date with Montreal due to the prospect of severe weather and ruled out running both U.S. races back-to-back in the autumn to maximise the series’ impact in the country.

When the 2022 Formula 1 calendar was announced in September 2021, the race was awarded a date in early May 2022. Critically, this date means the race weekend occurs before the official commencement of the 2022 North Atlantic hurricane season on 1 June and thus should take place when the risk from a landfalling tropical cyclone is lower.

Miami Hurricane Risk

According to the NOAA Historical Hurricane Tracks database, a total of 282 tropical cyclones have tracked within 300 kilometres of Miami Gardens since records began in 1851. This includes 100 hurricane-strength storms and features several of Florida’s most memorable and costly hurricanes: Andrew (1994), Irene (1999), Wilma (2005), Katrina (2005), and Irma (2017).

Crucially, of the 282 tropical cyclones to have tracked within 300 kilometres of Miami Gardens since records began in 1851, only ten have occurred in May. Contrast this with the number throughout the rest of the summer and autumn, and it becomes clear why May was the preferred month to host the race: the risk of tropical cyclones is greater in both June (27) and July (22) and significantly higher throughout the peak months of the hurricane season (August to October).

Although the region has only experienced ten tropical cyclones in May since 1851, most have brought wind and flood impacts to South Florida. Here’s a brief summary of each of those May tropical cyclones and their impacts:
  • In 1908, an unnamed tropical storm tracked over the Bahamas and brought some showers to South Florida. The system later moved away from Florida and intensified into Hurricane Two as it approached the Carolinas
  • Tropical Storm One made landfall near Cape Sable on 14 May 1916 and moved north-northwest across Florida and brought high winds and heavy rainfall to parts of Miami
  • Hurricane Able developed over open water to the northeast of Miami on 17 May 1951. It avoided a direct landfall over Florida and turned south and moved through the Bahamas, where it produced hurricane-force winds of 137 km/hr and heavy rain. The outer rainbands of Able produced rainfall across South Florida. Able later turned to the north and gradually strengthened as it headed out into the open North Atlantic
  • A tropical depression bypassed southeast of Florida on 24 May 1958 and dropped heavy rainfall that peaked at 307 mm in Homestead. It developed into Tropical Storm One a day later as it moved away from South Florida
  • A tropical depression developed well east of Miami on 29 May 1969 but did not affect South Florida
  • Tropical Depression One stalled off the coast of Florida in late May 1987 and brought heavy showers and thunderstorms to South Florida
  • On 25 May 1990, Tropical Depression One formed from a weak area of low pressure to the west of Jamaica. It tracked across Cuba and was absorbed by an approaching cold front before it reached Florida. The system brought over 150 mm of rainfall to much of South Florida and prompted flood warnings in Dade and Broward Counties
  • Tropical Storm Andrea weakened to a depression about 240 km northeast of Daytona Beach, Florida on 9 May 2007 and brought showers to parts of eastern Florida
  • Tropical Storm Ana developed just off the coast of Florida on 6 May 2015 and brought some shower activity to parts of Miami
  • A tropical depression crossed South Florida in mid-May 2020 and produced over 250 mm of rainfall in parts of the Florida Keys and South Florida. The system later developed into Tropical Storm Arthur while located well to the northeast of Miami on 16 May 2020

The tropical cyclones to have tracked within 300 km of Miami Gardens in May since 1851.

So although there is a non-zero risk, the decision to run the Miami Grand Prix in May – before the official start to the hurricane season and at a time when the risk from tropical cyclone impact is historically much lower – appears to have been a very sensible precaution to minimise the risk of a washout or cancellation. But running the race in May is not without some risk of potentially impactful precipitation.

Risk of Thunderstorms Regardless of Tropical Cyclones

Racing in the tropics at any time of year brings some level of risk due to the potential development of localised thunderstorms. According to NOAA, atmospheric conditions in Florida start to become more favourable for localised thunderstorm development during May: there are numerous sources of water vapour to feed thunderstorms, plentiful sunshine to cause the airmass at the surface to become unstable, and sources of atmospheric uplift such as an approaching frontal system or sea breeze boundary.

These afternoon thunderstorms can deliver short-lived but high-intensity rainfall that, if they passed over the circuit, could lead to the stoppage of the session or race. Thunderstorms are also usually accompanied by intense thunder and lightning, which under local jurisdiction may also dictate all on-track running must be stopped. The small-scale nature of these thunderstorms (perhaps only a few kilometres across) makes them incredibly difficult to forecast in advance with any certainty; moreover, their scale also means that even when they do form, they might not pass directly over the circuit, making it a very hit-or-miss scenario.

As our climatological analysis of the 2022 Formula 1 calendar shows, the climatological risk of precipitation in Miami on the scheduled race date is 26 percent. The race is also likely to rival Singapore and the Middle East venues to be one of the warmest of the season given its mid-afternoon start time — the climatological average daytime high for 8 May in the Miami Gardens area is around 29°C.

Extended Range Forecast for the 2022 Miami Grand Prix

At the time of the publication of this blog (Monday 25 April 2022), extended range tropical cyclone guidance indicates there is an extremely low (<5 percent) risk of a tropical cyclone passing within 300 kilometres of Miami in the week prior to the race weekend.

ECMWF tropical cyclone strike probability forecast, as of 21 April 2022

Details regarding the risk of localised tropical thunderstorms during the race weekend will become clearer in the days before the event. To keep up to date with the latest forecast information for the Miami Grand Prix, follow MeteoMotorsport on Twitter or visit the dedicated MeteoMotorsport F1 Weather Centre page.