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Hurricane Earl prep (AFP/Getty Images)

Hurricanes Hitting Populous U.S. Areas Relatively Rare

Sep 2, 2010

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Frank James

As the East Coast prepared Thursday for Hurricane Earl, whose effects were expected to be felt along North Carolina's Outer Banks by evening, it prompted some of us to ask just how often does a hurricane hit certain parts of the U.S., say the Mid-Atlantic?

A search for an answer to that led to some information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Hurricane Research Division that provides some insight.

It turns out, hurricanes hitting populous parts of the U.S. are relatively rare occurrences. That was something of a surprise to some of us since it seems like this time of year we seem to always be talking about hurricanes, especially since 2005 and Hurricane Katrina.

But the data suggest that if you live in a coastal city in the U.S., you could go your whole life without experiencing a hurricane.

Chris Landsea, who wrote an FAQ answer for NOAA's Hurricane Research Division, wrote the following and provides a table:

... There are many illustrative examples of the uncertainty of when a hurricane might strike a given locality. After nearly 70 years without a direct hit, Pensacola, Florida was hit directly by Hurricane Erin in 1995 and major Hurricane Ivan in 2004 within 10 years. Miami, which expects a major hurricane every nine years, on average, has been struck only once since 1950 (in 1992). Tampa has not experienced a major hurricane for 84 years. Many locations along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts have not experienced a major hurricane during the period 1851-2009.

New York City, for instance, has gotten a direct hit by only one hurricane since 1851 and that was in 1903 when it was in the path of a category 1 hurricane back before storms were named.

That's not to say cities haven't been affected by tropical storms. For instance, the Washington, DC-region was blasted in 2003 by TS Isabel. But a hurricane?Not so much.

And Hurricane Earl appears to be no exception, Forecasters still expect the eye of this large storm to stay over the ocean and to run north-northeast on a course that would keep it parallel but away from the populated cities of the East Coast.

But storm bands from the hurricane could still bring ocean surges and strong winds to beaches along the Eastern Seaboard and bad weather further inland. So East Coasters still need to be prepared.

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