No where along the Gulf Coast, in Florida or along the eastern seaboard is safe from a hurricane, but climatology shows some areas get whacked more than others.
The National Hurricane Center keeps a tally of hurricane landfalls that quantifies the chances of a hurricane passing within 50 nautical miles of specific locations.
It’s called the “hurricane return period.” For example, a return period of 20 years, means that, on average, during the past 100 years, a hurricane passed within 50 nautical miles of a specific area about five times.
Areas with the highest concerns will be no surprise, but the variability even within Florida is interesting.
While a point between West Palm Beach and Boca Raton has a 7-year return period – in the previous 100 years a hurricane passed within 50 nautical miles of the area 14 times – areas within the Big Bend region and in North Florida have return periods as high as 13.
“The maps clearly show there is not a 100 percent safe location – every part of the coastline is vulnerable,” said National Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen. “However, there are locations that experience more tropical cyclones compared to other locations over a period of time.”
The areas with the highest return periods for a hurricane of any category are coastal North Carolina, South Florida and Southeast Louisiana, about every 5 to 7 years.
Coastal New England has the lowest return period at 30 to 50 years.
Return rates get longer when only major hurricanes of Category 3 or higher are considered.
Still, South Florida and the Carolinas stand out as vulnerable to major hurricanes.
Hurricane Irma was the last major hurricane to hit Florida, making landfall as a Category 4 on Sept. 10, 2017. Before that, it was Hurricane Wilma, which hit on the southwest coast Oct. 24, 2005 as a Category 3 storm.
“The Florida peninsula sticks deep into into the tropics, so it experiences a high level of activity,” Feltgen said. “Regardless of the overall odds anywhere, however, you have to prepare as if this is the year you are going to be hit.”