How Often Do Hurricanes Hit Cape Cod?

Hurricane Noel Brushes By New England

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

As of the 2017 hurricane season, Massachusetts had been hit by 10 hurricanes, 5 of which were a category 1, 3 were a category 2, and 2 were a category 3. Massachusetts has never had a direct hit from a category 4 or 5 hurricane.

Last year's Atlantic hurricane season was more active than normal but Cape Cod was again not hit by any of the season's 10 hurricanes. It was, however, on the receiving end of Tropical Storm Jose in September 2017.

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

Overview of Hurricane Season

When is hurricane season? The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30 with the peak period 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 turn into hurricanes with winds reaching 74 mph or greater, and three 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.

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 it 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 to Cape Cod, Nantucket, or Martha's Vineyard between June and October, you probably will think that the risk is too small to merit hurricane insurance. Note that in most cases, insurance must be purchased 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 2017

The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was a wildly active, ruthlessly deadly, and extremely destructive season that ranked among most ferocious since records began in 1851. Worse yet, the season was relentless, with all 10 of the season's hurricanes occurring consecutively.

Most forecasters missed the mark, either slightly or significantly underestimating both the number and fury of the storms. Early in the year, forecasters anticipated that an El Niño would develop, lowering storm activity. However, the predicted El Niño failed to develop and instead, cool-neutral conditions developed to create a La Niña for the second year in a row. Some forecasters adjusted their predictions in light of the developments, but none fully comprehended how the season would unfold.

Keep in mind that a typical year brings 12 named storms, six hurricanes, and three major hurricanes. The year 2017 had a significantly above-average season that produced a total of 17 named storms, 10 hurricanes, and six major hurricanes. Here is how forecasters fared with their predictions for the 2017 season. 

  • NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) slightly underestimated the season, having predicted an "above-normal" season with 11 to 17 named storms, five to nine hurricanes, including two to four major hurricanes.
  • Global Weather Oscillations Inc. (GWO) also predicted above-average activity with 16 named storms, eight hurricanes, and four major hurricanes. 
  • Tropical Storm Risk from the University College London underestimated the ferocity of the season by predicting 14 named storms, six hurricanes, and three major hurricanes. 
  • The Weather Channel also predicted a normal season, with 12 named storms, six hurricanes, and two major hurricanes.
  • North Carolina State University's Department of Marine, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences also missed the mark by predicting a normal hurricane season with 11 to 15 named storms, four to six hurricanes, and one to three major hurricanes.
  • Accuweather was way off, having predicted a slightly less active-than-normal season, with 10 named storms, five hurricanes, and three major hurricanes.
  • Colorado State University also predicted a year slightly less active than typical, with 11 named storms, four hurricanes, and two major hurricanes.
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