After a slow start to the Atlantic hurricane season, the tropics decided to make up for lost time in the final weeks of September when hurricanes Fiona and Ian caused devastating damage across Puerto Rico and Florida, respectively. But even though the climatological peak of hurricane season – Sept. 10 – was nearly a month ago, residents living along the East and Gulf coasts of the U.S. shouldn't let their guard down in October.
October ranks as the third-most-active month (behind September and August) for tropical activity in the Atlantic Basin, typically producing about two named storms each year, one of which becomes a hurricane. And every other October, on average, one of those hurricanes intensifies into a "major hurricane," achieving Category 3 or higher intensity on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.
While most areas of the Atlantic Basin remain open for development in October, a lot of the tropical activity tends to shift westward as the disturbances that frequently roll off Africa during the peak of hurricane season begin to fade away. And any disturbances that do emerge off the coast of Africa in October will often run into hostile atmospheric conditions such as dry air and strong upper-level winds over the waters of the eastern tropical Atlantic.
So, in October, we actually look closer to home for the best chances of tropical development.
The western Caribbean Sea, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the western and central Atlantic Ocean are the areas where you'll most likely find a tropical storm or hurricane in October. That means parts of the East and Gulf coasts of the U.S. remain at risk of a landfalling storm to occur.
Between 1950 and 2021, the U.S. was impacted by 19 landfalling hurricanes during the month of October, according to NOAA's Hurricane Research Division. Of course, that doesn't include Superstorm Sandy since the former hurricane had lost its tropical characteristics before making landfall near Atlantic City, New Jersey, on Oct. 29, 2012.
Since 2016 alone, five October hurricanes have made landfall in the U.S., including Matthew (2016), Nate (2017), Michael (2018), Delta (2020) and Zeta (2020). Last year was the first time since 2015 that the U.S. wasn't struck by a hurricane in October. (In fact, no hurricanes made landfall in the U.S. during any month of 2015.)
More hurricanes have impacted South Florida in October than any other month. Through 2021, 26 October hurricanes had passed within 100 nautical miles of Miami since recordkeeping began in 1851, according to NOAA's Historical Hurricane Tracks.
By November, however, the Atlantic typically quiets down for the final month of hurricane season, which ends on Nov. 30.
NOAA's data indicate that only three hurricanes have ever made a U.S. landfall in November. Hurricane Kate in 1985 became the nation's latest-in-season landfalling hurricane when it crashed ashore at Category 2 intensity on the evening of Nov. 21 near Mexico Beach, Florida.