It’s only been a year since Hurricane Florence killed dozens of people in North Carolina, and two years before that, Hurricane Matthew took almost as many lives. On Friday, it was Hurricane Dorian striking that state with feared deadly force.
How often can hurricanes be expected to hit the same spots?
National Hurricane Center data suggests the Tar Heel state is among the most common tropical cyclone targets, with hurricane-force storms expected every five to seven years. In southeast Florida, it happens once every six to seven years.
And in Maryland, a brush with a hurricane — defined as coming within 50 miles of the coast — happens about once every 15 years.
The estimates are based on historical data through 2010. So the fact that North Carolina is dealing with what could be its third deadly hurricane in four years suggests trends may be changing. The editorial board of the Raleigh News & Observer suggested as much Friday calling for the state to do more to defend against hurricanes.
North Carolina and Florida are more the victims of geography than anything else. Hurricanes follow warm ocean currents through the Caribbean Sea, sometimes straight into Florida or the Gulf Mexico and often turning north to follow the Gulf Stream, which comes closest to the East Coast where North Carolina’s Outer Banks elbow out into Atlantic.
Maryland has not seen a deadly hurricane since Cristobal in 2014 and, before that, Irene in 2011 and Isabel in 2003.
For major hurricanes, the gaps between storms are significantly larger. Maryland hasn’t been affected by one since Gloria in 1985, and the hurricane center data suggested it only happens once every 66 years, on average.
North Carolina and Southeast Florida get hit by major hurricanes about as often as Maryland sees any hurricanes.