Coastal Flood Advisory

Could Florence's track be an outlier in history of Atlantic hurricanes to strike US East Coast?

By Alex Sosnowski, AccuWeather senior meteorologist
September 09, 2018, 4:47:35 AM EDT

Given Florence's position over the central Atlantic to end this past week, the vast majority of hurricanes and tropical storms do not make landfall in the United States.

"The farther west Florence tracks, the greater the chance that the storm will hit the U.S.," according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Bernie Rayno.

"That chance is small at first but increases over time as the storm moves westward," Rayno said.


From a probability standpoint, it is extremely rare for a hurricane to make landfall along the Carolina coast based on Florence's position as of Friday morning, according to data compiled by The Florida State University (FSU).

The FSU product takes a look at the track of all known tropical storms and hurricanes in a similar position over the years up through 2016.

"What this product is picking up on is that the vast majority of tropical storms and hurricanes in Florence's position on Sept. 6-7 tend to curve away from the U.S.," according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Brett Anderson.

However, there have been only a small number of storms that far north in the Atlantic and moving on westerly path.

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Even with hundreds of storms pooled in the database across the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea, there may not always be enough to pick out the outlier.

There may be a couple of close candidates, however.

“The Chesapeake-Potomac Hurricane of September 1933 is the only major hurricane that’s tracked where Florence roughly is now and ended up hitting between North Carolina and Rhode Island," according to AccuWeather Meteorologist Jesse Ferrell.

Static Chesapeake-Potomac Hurricane 1933 Track

The exact track the September 1933 hurricane took is questionable, since it was prior to the satellite era and position over the ocean was based on ship reports.

"Hurricane Emily in August and September 1993 was in that general area of the central Atlantic and came very close to but did not make landfall on the Outer Banks of North Carolina,” Ferrell said.

Most hurricanes that do strike the East Coast of the U.S. are actually much farther south in the Atlantic at this point or originate from the Caribbean or Gulf of Mexico.

Ferrell noted Hurricane Sandy from October 2012 as a cautionary tale about statistics.

Static Sandy Track

While Sandy originated from the Caribbean, not the central Atlantic, it turned westward and crashed into New Jersey after moving northward.

"Statistically, it is unlikely but not unprecedented for Florence to hit the U.S.," Ferrell said.

In early September 1971, Hurricane Ginger originated near the Bahamas, spent many days over the central Atlantic then moved west-northwestward and struck the Carolinas at the end of the month.

Hurricane Agnes in June of 1972 also turned westward and looped over the mid-Atlantic states. However, Agnes originated from southeastern Mexico and not the central Atlantic.

In September 1989, Hurricane Hugo slammed into South Carolina from the southeast. Hugo tracked near Puerto Rico, much farther to the south, when compared to Florence, before making the turn toward the U.S.

Even Isabel from Sept. 2003, which made landfall in North Carolina, was much farther south when Florence was at the same longitude.

Every storm is different and every weather setup is different.

Since the weather pattern that may evolve next week over the western Atlantic to the U.S. East Coast is unusual for mid-September, we may be in uncharted territory.

Despite the historical data, all possibilities need to be considered at this point, including the potential for a Florence landfall in the U.S.

Download the free AccuWeather app to stay tuned to the latest tropical forecast with Superior Accuracy™. Keep a close eye on Florence and other brewing Atlantic tropical threats.

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