How Often Do Hurricanes Hit Cape Cod?

Hurricane Noel Brushes By New England
••• Darren McCollester / Stringer/Getty Images

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. (See Cape Cod on a map.)

As of the 2016 hurricane season, Massachusetts has 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 quieter than normal. The last major hurricane to hit Cape Cod was Hurricane Bob in 1991 although many places on the Cape sustained damage during Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and Hurricane Arthur in 2014.

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 on Cape Cod

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.

Predictions for Hurricane Season 2017

Major forecasters have weighed in with their official predictions for hurricane season 2017:

  • NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) is predicting a 70 percent chance of an "above-normal" season with 11 to 17 named storms, five to nine hurricanes, including two to four major hurricanes.
  • North Carolina State University's Department of Marine, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences is forecasting a normal hurricane season with 11 to 15 named storms, four to six hurricanes, and one to three major hurricanes.
  • Accuweather has predicted a slightly less active-than-normal season, with 10 named storms, five hurricanes, and three major hurricanes.
  • The Weather Channel is predicting a normal season, with 12 named storms, six hurricanes, and two major hurricanes.
  • Colorado State University has also predicted a year that is slightly less active than typical, with 11 named storms, four hurricanes and two major hurricanes.
  • Tropical Storm Risk from the University College London predicts an average season, with 14 named storms, six hurricanes, and three major hurricanes. 
  • Global Weather Oscillations Inc. (GWO) is predicting an active year with 16 named storms, eight hurricanes, and four major hurricanes. 

    Recap of Hurricane Season 2016

    Keep in mind that a typical year will bring 12 named storms, six hurricanes, and three major hurricanes. The year 2016 was a slightly above-average season that produced a total of 15 named storms, seven hurricanes and four major hurricanes. Here is how forecasters fared with their predictions for the 2016 season. 

    • NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) was right on the money, having predicted a "near-normal" season with 10 to 16 named storms, four to eight hurricanes, including one to four major hurricanes.

    • North Carolina State University's Department of Marine, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences was also very accurate, having forecasted a busy hurricane season with 15 to 18 named storms, 8 to 11 hurricanes, and three to five becoming major hurricanes.

    • Accuweather predicted a slightly more-active-than-normal season, with 14 named storms, eight hurricanes, and four major hurricanes.

    • The Weather Channel predicted a slightly more active season than usual, with 14 named storms, eight hurricanes, and three major hurricanes.

    • Colorado State University predicted a typical year, with 13 named storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes.

    • Tropical Storm Risk from the University College London predicted an average season, with 12 named storms, six hurricanes, and two major hurricanes. 

    • Global Weather Oscillations Inc. (GWO) predicted a very active year with 17 named storms, nine hurricanes, and four major hurricanes.