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The transition into October features the U.S. southern tier being the hot spot for tropical activity. Meanwhile, the Atlantic Hurricane Season's peak has already come and gone with the conclusion of September.
In October, tropical cyclone formation is mainly in the western Caribbean, Bay of Campeche and southern Gulf of Mexico. Tropical cyclones typically don`t form near the Cape Verde Islands off the West African coast by this time in the season.
By this late in the season, upper-level westerly winds become stronger and cold fronts dip farther south towards the Gulf of Mexico. Cool air masses bring down the ocean surface water temperature rapidly as well. These factors preclude many tropical cyclones from reaching far north into the U.S. However, a hand full of storms can still form in the season`s fifth month.
Recent years have seen a few storms in the tenth month of the year. After a record-setting September with ten, only four storms developed in October 2020. However, three of these reached major hurricane status, with Category 4 Delta slamming the Yucatan Peninsula and Louisiana on the 9th, followed a couple of weeks later by Category 3 Zeta pummelling Jamaica, the Yucatan Peninsula and Louisiana. In 2019, five named storms developed, but only Tropical Storms Nestor and Olga made landfall in the U.S., and they were both Gulf Coast landfalls. The other three storms developed in the open Atlantic but remained far from the U.S. The year before had three tropical storms form in October, including Major Hurricane Michael, which made landfall on October 10, 2018 near Mexico Beach, Fla. This was only the fourth Category 5 hurricane on record to make landfall in the U.S.
More than 80 percent of major hurricanes to hit the U.S. between 1900 and 2018 occurred prior to October. Since the hurricane tracks tend to shift farther south in October, south Florida is at greater risk for tropical activity. Between 1900 and 2018, Florida was hit by seven major hurricanes (Category 3 or higher) and south Florida was hit by five major hurricanes from 1900 to 2018.
Some famous October hurricanes that hit Florida are:
Michael in 2018: hit central Florida panhandle near Mexico Beach as a Category 5 hurricane with 160 mph winds
Opal in 1995: hit western Florida panhandle near Pensacola as a Category 3 hurricane with 115 mph winds
Isbell in 1964: hit the southwest coast just south of Marco Island with 115 mph winds
King in 1950: hit the southeast coast near Miami with 105 mph winds
Unnamed hurricane in 1944: hit southwest coast near Port Charlotte with 120 mph winds
2012`s Hurricane Sandy is prime example of a monster storm that can wallop the East Coast north of Florida. Sandy ranks as the second-costliest hurricane to ever hit the U.S., with a price tag of more than $68 billion.
The other three major hurricanes that have hit the U.S. in the last century in October were Wilma in 2005, Hilda in 1994, and Hazel in 1954.
Wilma hit the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula before turning towards the northeast. It crossed the southern part of Florida as a Category 3 hurricane with gusts over 100 mph and spawned ten tornadoes. Wilma set the record for lowest central pressure (882 mb, previously 888 mb) as well as fastest pressure drop (88 mb in 12 hours, previously 48 mb in 12 hours).
Hilda made landfall in south-central Louisiana with 115 mph winds, and Hazel hit near the North Carolina-South Carolina border with 140 mph winds and caused major wind damage all the way up the Appalachians.
Texas has seen only 2 hurricane hits in October from 1900 to 2000: Jerry in 1989 and an unnamed storm in 1912.
Image: Hurricane Michael as seen from GOES-East on October 10, 2018. (NOAA)