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October Hurricane History

UPDATED October 1, 2013

By WeatherBug Meteorologists

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As the calendar flips to the fifth month of the Atlantic Hurricane Season, south Florida becomes more at risk for a hurricane. The good news is that the peak of the season is now over.

Significant changes in the weather pattern occur this month. Upper-level westerly winds and cold fronts dip further down into the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic. Both of these are hostile factors for tropical cyclones. Despite this, you can still see a hand full of storms this month, such as the four named-storms that formed in October 2012, including a monster storm named Sandy.

More typical of this month was 2011`s Hurricane Ophelia, that got ripped apart by upper-level winds. Ophelia formed in late September and reached Category 4 strength 120 miles east-northeast of Bermuda late on the first day of October. Two days later, it rapidly weakened to a tropical storm over much cooler North Atlantic water and after moving into a hostile upper-level environment.

In addition to wind shear, cooler air masses cause water temperatures to slowly decrease below the critical 80 degrees required for hurricanes across much of the Atlantic and the northern Gulf of Mexico.

Usually, October tends to bring a quick end to the Cape Verde season, which features tropical cyclones forming near the Cape Verde Islands off the West African coast. Instead, the places to look for tropical cyclone formation are mainly in the western Caribbean and secondarily in the Bay of Campeche at the southern end of the Gulf of Mexico.

Devastating Hurricane Sandy was a prime example of a Caribbean storm in late October 2012 but it became anything but typical for October standards after it pushed north of the Bahamas. Sandy formed in the southwestern Caribbean Sea, made its first landfall in eastern Jamaica, subsequently hitting eastern Cuba, before raking the Bahamas and emerging into the western Atlantic. Once it was there, it made the typical turn the northeast towards Bermuda until a high pressure center over the Northeastern U.S. curved it back toward the U.S., slamming it into southern New Jersey - an unprecedented track. Sandy ranks as the second-costliest hurricane to ever hit the U.S., with a price tag of more than $68 billion.

The good news is that major hurricanes like Sandy generally become less likely in October due to the same factors mentioned above - cooling waters and strong upper-level winds. Fifty-seven of the 65 (or nearly 90 percent) major hurricanes to hit the U.S. between 1900 and 2000 occurred from June to September.

Because of the shift in hurricane tracks, south Florida is at greater risk from hurricanes in October than they are earlier in the hurricane season. Of eight major hurricanes (Category Three or higher) that hit the U.S. in October between 1900 and 2000, Florida was hit by six, and south Florida by five.

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 have 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, 2 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.

Be sure to check with WeatherBug often for the latest information on the 2013 Hurricane Season. Be sure to keep WeatherBug active to receive the latest weather in your neighborhood and get the latest updates anywhere on Twitter.

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