A Northern Gulf Coast Hurricane Landfall in October or November is Quite Rare

Jonathan Belles
Published: October 4, 2017

Three tropical storms and two hurricanes occur every year, on average, in the entire Atlantic Basin in the final third of hurricane season, according to the National Hurricane Center, but the focus for landfalls begins to shift eastward as seasons change. Hurricanes along the western and northern Gulf Coast become rare as daylight fades and trees begin to change colors.

Only 15 named storms or hurricanes have had direct impacts on the Gulf Coast or Florida in October since 1950, and numbers steeply drop to two such systems in November. This averages out to be roughly one named storm landfall from Texas to Florida every four or five years.

Of those, just four tropical systems have made landfall along the Texas or Louisiana coast, two of which made landfall in the first week of October.

(MORE: Hurricane Central | Latest on the Tropics)

Tracks of hurricanes and tropical storms that made U.S. Gulf Coast or Florida impacts in October or November from 1950-2016. Note: Ida, 2009 was included due to its impacts along the Gulf Coast even as a post-tropical system.

By October, the formation zones of tropical storms and hurricanes typically shift west toward the western Caribbean Sea, eastern Gulf of Mexico and far western Atlantic Ocean as the "Cabo Verde" portion of the hurricane season, featuring development of African easterly waves in the eastern Atlantic Ocean, fades.

(MORE: How a Borderline La Niña Could Impact the Rest of the Atlantic Hurricane Season)

Autumn cold fronts are a saving grace for much of the western and northern Gulf Coast during October and more into November. Cold fronts routinely sweep developing tropical storms and hurricanes out of the Gulf, pushing them northeastward and out to sea.

Typical formation zones and tracks for tropical storms and hurricanes in October.

The cold fronts have to be well timed, however. The western Gulf can still be struck by hurricanes that come in between cold fronts. The frequency of cold frontal passage (also known as fropa) increases from October into November.

Of course, when one location has a better fortune, somewhere else has to pay for it.

Many Floridians consider October to be the peak of the hurricane season due to the increased number of hurricane strikes in that month, even though the peak of the season for the entire basin occurs in September.

(MORE: Where the October Hurricane Threat is the Greatest)

From 1851 to 2016, 32 hurricanes made a Florida landfall in October, dwarfing the state with the second-highest number of October landfalls: Louisiana, with nine.

By November, waters are cooling off and the atmosphere is becoming more hostile to tropical weather systems. Dying cold fronts often provide enough spin and moisture to kick-start late-season tropical storms. The most favorable conditions are found in the western Caribbean Sea and southwestern Atlantic, which is often where cold fronts lose their strength.

Typical formation zones and tracks for tropical storms and hurricanes in November.

According to NOAA's best track database, there have been 36 Atlantic tropical cyclones of at least tropical storm strength in November from 1950 through 2015. Twenty of those became hurricanes.

In the period of record from 1851 to 2014, no tropical storm or hurricane has impacted the western Gulf Coast from Texas to Mississippi in the month of November.

Since 1851, Florida has been impacted by eight tropical storms and hurricanes in November. The only other states with more than one November impact were also in the Southeast: Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina.

Typically, November tropical systems follow the upper-level flow and cold fronts northeastward into the Atlantic Ocean.

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