America

Hurricanes Hitting Populous U.S. Areas Relatively Rare

Hurricane Earl prep

Emily Venable, a paint store assistant manager takes duct-tapes the store windows as Hurricane Earl approaches the town of Kitty Hawk, NC in the Outer Banks, September 2, 2010.  PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

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.

Last direct or indirect hit by any hurricane or a major hurricane at certain populated coastal communities.
through 2009
StateCity Last Direct Major Hurricane Hit Last Direct Hurricane Hit
TexasBrownsville1980Cat3Allen2008Cat1Dolly
Corpus Christi 1970Cat3Celia1971Cat1Fern
Port Aransas1970Cat3Celia1971Cat1Fern
Matagorda1961Cat4Carla2003Cat1Claudette
Freeport1983Cat3 Alicia2008Cat2Ike
Galveston1983Cat3Alicia2008Cat2Ike
Houston2005Cat3Rita2008Cat2Ike
Beaumont2005Cat3Rita2007Cat1Humberto
LouisianaCameron1957Cat4Audrey1985Cat1Danny
Morgan City1992Cat3Andrew2008Cat2Gustav
Houma1974Cat3Carmen2008Cat2Gustav
New Orleans2005Cat3Katrina2005Cat3Katrina
MississippiBay St. Louis2005Cat3Katrina1985Cat3Elena
Biloxi1985Cat3Elena2005Cat2Katrina
Pascagoula1985Cat3Elena2005Cat1Katrina
AlabamaMobile1985Cat3Elena2005Cat1Katrina
FloridaPensacola2004Cat3Ivan2005Cat3Dennis
Panama City1995Cat3Opal2005Cat1Dennis
Apalachicola1985Cat3Elena1998Cat2Earl
Homosassa1950Cat3Easy1968Cat2Gladys
St. Petersburg1921Cat3 1946Cat1
Tampa1921Cat3 1946Cat1
Sarasota1944Cat3 1946Cat1
Fort Myers1960Cat3Donna1960Cat3Donna
Naples2005Cat3Wilma2005Cat3Wilma
Key West1948Cat3 1999Cat1Irene
Miami1992Cat5Andrew2005Cat1Wilma
Fort Lauderdale1950Cat3King2005Cat2Wilma
W. Palm Beach1949Cat3 2005Cat2Wilma
Stuart2004Cat3Jeanne2004Cat3Jeanne
Fort Pierce2004Cat3Jeanne2004Cat3Jeanne
Vero Beach2004Cat3Jeanne2004Cat3Jeanne
Cocoa<1900 1995Cat1Erin
Daytona Bch <1880 1960Cat2Donna
St. Augustine<1880 1964Cat2Dora
Jacksonville<1880 1964Cat2Dora
Fernandina Bch<1880 1928Cat2
GeorgiaBrunswick1898Cat4 1928Cat1
Savannah1854Cat3 1979Cat2David
S. CarolinaHilton Head1959Cat3Gracie1979Cat2David
Charleston1989Cat4Hugo1989Cat4Hugo
Myrtle Beach 1954Cat4 Hazel1954Cat4Hazel
N. CarolinaWilmington1996Cat3Fran1999Cat2Floyd
Morehead City1996Cat3Fran1999Cat2Floyd
Cape Hatteras1993Cat3Emily2003Cat2Isabel
VirginiaVirginia Beach1944Cat3 2003Cat1Isabel
Norfolk<1851 2003Cat1Isabel
MarylandOcean City<1851 <1851
Baltimore<1851 1878Cat1
DelawareRehoboth Bch<1851 <1851
Wilmington<1851 1954Cat2Hazel
New Jersey Cape May<1851 1903Cat1
Atlantic City<1851 1903Cat1
New YorkNew York City<1851 1903Cat1
Westhampton1985Cat3Gloria1985Cat3Gloria
Connecticut New London1938Cat3 1991Cat2Bob
New Haven1938Cat3 1985Cat2Gloria
Bridgeport1954Cat3Carol1985Cat2Gloria
Rhode Island Providence1954Cat3Carol1991Cat2Bob
Mass.Cape Cod1954Cat3Edna1991Cat2Bob
Boston1869Cat3 1960Cat1Donna
New HampshirePortsmouth<1851 1985Cat2Gloria
MainePortland<1851 1985Cat1Gloria
Eastport<1851 1969Cat1Gerda

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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