October Hurricane History
UPDATED September 28, 2014
By WeatherBug Meteorologists
While the traditional peak of the Atlantic Hurricane Season is finished, south Florida becomes more at risk for tropical activity rolling through October.
Last year, Tropical Storm Karen formed near the Yucatan Peninsula and headed towards the western Gulf Coast in early October but fizzled out before making landfall. Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Lorenzo formed well east of Bermuda and headed east only to dissipate in the Eastern Atlantic.
Upper-level westerly winds become stronger and cold fronts dip farther south towards the Gulf of Mexico. Cool air masses bring down the ocean surface water temperature rapidly as well. These factors preclude many tropical cyclones from reaching far north into the U.S. However, a hand full of storms can still form in the season`s fifth month.
2012`s Hurricane Sandy is prime example of a monster storm that can wallop the East Coast north of Florida. Sandy ranks as the second-costliest hurricane to ever hit the U.S., with a price tag of more than $68 billion.
Besides Sandy, Tropical Storm Oscar, Patty and Tony as well as Hurricane Rafael formed in October 2012. Most of these storms were short-lived and did not impact land. Rafael became a hurricane south of Bermuda and dissipated by the time it reached far southeast Nova Scotia.
2011`s Hurricane Ophelia followed a similar track to Rafael but was a major Category 4 storm. The late-September and early-October storm got torn apart by upper-level winds after moving north of Bermuda and dissipated in the cooler North Atlantic.
In October, tropical cyclone formation is mainly in the western Caribbean, Bay of Campeche and southern Gulf of Mexico. Tropical cyclones typically don`t form near the Cape Verde Islands off the West African coast by this time in the season.
Nearly 90 percent of major hurricanes to hit the U.S. between 1900 and 2000 occurred prior to October. Since the hurricane tracks tend to shift farther south in October, south Florida is at greater risk for tropical activity. Between 1900 and 2000, Florida was hit by six major hurricanes (Category 3 or higher) and south Florida was hit by five major hurricanes from 1900 to 2000.
From 1900 to 2000, the probability of a hurricane hitting south Florida in any given year in September is four to six percent. The probability of an October hurricane strike is six to eight percent (highest in the Florida Keys).
Some famous October hurricanes that hit Florida are:
- Opal in 1995: hit western Florida panhandle near Pensacola as a Category 3 hurricane with 115 mph winds
- Isbell in 1964: hit the southwest coast just south of Marco Island with 115 mph winds
- King in 1950: hit the southeast coast near Miami with 105 mph winds
- Unnamed hurricane in 1944: hit southwest coast near Port Charlotte with 120 mph winds
- Unnamed hurricane in 1910: hit southwest coast near Naples with 115 mph winds
- Unnamed hurricane in 1906: hit the upper Keys and southeast coast with 125 mph winds
The other three major hurricanes that have hit the U.S. in the last century in October were Wilma in 2005, Hilda in 1994, and Hazel in 1954. Wilma hit the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula before turning towards the northeast. It crossed the southern part of Florida as a Category 3 hurricane with gusts over 100 mph and spawned ten tornadoes. Wilma set the record for lowest central pressure (882 mb, previously 888 mb) as well as fastest pressure drop (88 mb in 12 hours, previously 48 mb in 12 hours). Hilda made landfall in south-central Louisiana with 115 mph winds, and Hazel hit near the North Carolina-South Carolina border with 140 mph winds and caused major wind damage all the way up the Appalachians.
Texas has seen only 2 hurricane hits in October from 1900 to 2000: Jerry in 1989 and an unnamed storm in 1912.
The northeast U.S. coastline north of Cape Hatteras did not experience any land falling October hurricanes between 1900 and 2000. However, two minimal hurricanes in the 1800s did make landfall there. One hurricane in 1864 passed across southeast Virginia and onto the Delmarva Peninsula.
October 1869 brought the famed "Saxby`s Gale,"which hit Cape Cod and southwestern Maine. It was named after a British Naval instructor, Stephen Saxby, who in December 1868 issued a rather vague forecast of a major storm somewhere in the world around October 5, 1869, based on a conjunction of lunar events: there would be a new moon, directly overhead at the equator, with the moon as close to the earth as it ever gets. The same circumstances occurred on October 6, 2002, but a recurrence of this phenomenon did not occur. The closest event was Hurricane Lili which died out on October 4th after making landfall in Louisiana as a Category 1 hurricane.
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