How Often Do Hurricanes Hit Cape Cod?

Be Hurricane Smart While Visiting the Cape in the Summer and Fall

Hurricane Noel Brushes By New England

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Since Massachusetts lies on the Eastern Seaboard, the state is sometimes affected by hurricanes—although it is far less vulnerable than southeastern states such as Florida and the Carolinas. Since Cape Cod juts out like a chin, and the islands of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard lie farther offshore, they often bear the brunt of major storms coming up the New England coast.

As of the 2018 hurricane season, Massachusetts had been hit directly by 10 hurricanes, five of which were a category 1, three were a category 2, and two were a category 3. Massachusetts has never had a direct hit from a category 4 or 5 hurricane.

Last year's Atlantic hurricane season brought the remnants of Hurricanes Florence and Michael to Cape Cod, but the region escaped the direct threat of the season's eight hurricanes.

Planning a getaway to Cape Cod, Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard or another place on the Massachusetts coast this summer or fall? Here's what you should know about hurricane season.

Overview of the Atlantic Hurricane Season

When is hurricane season? The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30 with the peak period occurring from early August through the end of October. The Atlantic basin includes the entire Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico.

What does a typical hurricane season look like? Based on historical weather records dating back to 1950, the Atlantic region will typically experience 12 tropical storms with sustained winds of 39 mph, of which six will turn into hurricanes with winds reaching 74 mph or greater, and three will become major hurricanes category 3 or higher with sustained winds of at least 111 mph. It's important to note that most of these hurricanes do not make landfall in the United States. Also, these past three consecutive years have seen an atypically high number of hurricanes and tropical storms.

How many hurricanes typically hit Massachusetts? On average, one to two hurricanes (or more specifically, 1.75 hurricanes) make landfall on the US East Coast every year. Of those, only 3 percent hit Massachusetts. Since 1851, 10 hurricanes have made direct hits on Massachusetts.

There is little to no correlation between the total number of storms and those that make landfall in any given season. For example, 2010 was an extremely busy season, with 19 named storms and 12 hurricanes. Yet no hurricane and only one tropical storm made landfall in the US that year.

What does this mean for my vacation plans? Statistically, there is a very low risk that a storm will impact your vacation. If you're planning to vacation on Cape Cod, Nantucket, or Martha's Vineyard between June and October, you probably will think that the risk is too small to merit purchasing travel insurance. Note that in most cases, insurance must be obtained more than 24 hours before a hurricane is named. 

How can I stay on top of hurricane warnings? If you're traveling to a hurricane-prone destination, download the Hurricane app from the American Red Cross for storm updates and a slew of helpful features.

Recap of Hurricane Season 2018

The 2018 Atlantic hurricane season was quite active, yet far less destructive than the ruthlessly deadly 2017 season, which ranked among the most ferocious since records were first kept in 1851. In 2018, eight of the 15 named storms became hurricanes: Two were major.

Most forecasters missed the mark, predicting a quieter than normal season. They anticipated that an El Niño would develop, lowering storm activity. However, the anticipated El Niño failed to develop in time to suppress activity, and 2018 saw the third consecutive above-average year for dangerous storms. Even the experts rarely comprehend how a hurricane season will unfold.

Keep in mind that a typical year brings 12 named storms, six hurricanes, and three major hurricanes. The year 2018 had an above-average season that produced a total of 15 named storms, eight hurricanes, and two major hurricanes, most notably the Category 5 Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico.

Predictions for the 2019 Hurricane Season

Before the start of the season, leading forecasting organizations varied widely in their assessments, with some predicting 2018 would again generate an above-average number of storms and others forecasting a more typical or even below-average hurricane season. By mid-season, most had upped their estimates for the number of named storms, but as of mid-August, only one hurricane, Barry, had formed. It made landfall in Louisiana as a Category 1 storm and never threatened Cape Cod or the islands.

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