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New England's Current Hurricane Drought Looms as 2024 Season Begins

On August 19, 1991, Hurricane Bob made landfall across Rhode Island as a category 2 storm with sustained winds of 100mph. The storm tracked across the Massachusetts South Shore before making another landfall in Maine as a tropical storm. This was nearly 33 years ago. Since then, there have been seven tropical storm landfalls in New England, but direct contact from a hurricane has been avoided.

While direct landfalls from hurricanes are uncommon in New England, this current span without one is growing to be notable. The current dry spell of 32 years is the second longest for New England since 1851, the year in which the Atlantic Hurricane Database dates back.

This is by far the second longest drought, as the third longest is just 16 years (which occurred from 1969-1985). Despite this fact, New England still has another decade to reach the longest drought ever of 42 years, occurring from 1896 to 1938.

There have been close calls during this drought. In 2021, Henri, a category 1 hurricane, was on a collision course with southern New England and was, for a time, expected to end this drought. Henri would weaken rapidly upon approach and make landfall in Rhode Island as a higher end tropical storm. Hurricane Kyle in 2008 came close to eastern Maine, but made landfall in Nova Scotia. Category 1 Arthur bypassed Cape Cod by less than 100 miles in 2014. Sandy in 2012 took a sharp bend to the west before reaching New England.

While weather forces around New England almost always work to keep hurricanes out of the region, it has been an increasingly long time since a hurricane has been able to break through. This comes as New England's neighbors to the northeast, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, have seen hurricane activity in this time. Most notably, Juan in 2003 and Igor in 2010. In 2022, Fiona hit Nova Scotia as a post-tropical storm with winds still equivalent to a category 2 hurricane.

There has been much publicity over the past couple months about a potentially hyper-active season this year. Without going into too much detail (since this has been widely published by many outlets), El-Nino will be transitioning to La-Nina this summer. Sea surface temperatures also remain at record high levels. La-Nina conditions are generally more favorable for hurricane development than El-Nino due to wind shear conditions.

Daily sea surface temperatures in the North Atlantic. The orange line represents last year's record high levels, the black line is this year (each gray line represents a year dating back to 1981):

Even with the less favorable El-Nino last year, record sea surface temperatures were able to propel the season to the fourth most active on record. With the more favorable La-Nina conditions combined with high ocean temperatures this year, every organization that publishes hurricane season predictions are predicting a much above average season. This includes the NOAA, which issued its most aggressive prediction on record.

After looking at numerical predictions, it's natural to wonder about what this may mean when it comes to landfalls and if a hyperactive, potentially record breaking, season increases the odds of landfalls, and specially a New England landfall. The reality is that there's no way to predict the number of hurricane landfalls and where they'll make landfall in long-term predictions. Weather patterns that steer hurricanes can't really be forecasted until a storm actually forms since these patterns are always changing and shifting around.

A hurricane will make landfall in New England again. Whether that happens this year, next year or ten plus years from now, setting a new record for longest drought, there's no way to know for sure until a storm is actually bearing down.



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