Do hurricanes ever hit the Northeast states? While the remnants of these storms often impact cities like Boston, New York City, Washington DC, and Philadelphia, it’s very uncommon and rare for a category level hurricane to impact cities in the Northeast.
Does it happen sometimes? While cities along the northern East Coast are very familiar with nor’easters which have many of the same features of hurricanes (but don’t require warm water), it’s rare for a Category 1 or higher tropical system to make it that far north given the water temperatures in that area of the United States.
In cases where a strong category level storm comes up the East Coast and is moving very fast, it’s possible the storm stays together to impact land areas in the north assuming the system doesn’t remain out to sea.
September 1, 2021 – The remnants of Hurricane Ida created several “flash flood emergency” advisories in New York and New Jersey proving once again why people should not focus on where a hurricane makes landfall and should also focus on inland areas many hundreds of miles away when making preparations and being ready. Ida is a great storm to study as the Northeast is seemingly becoming more prone to tropical system in the past few years.
August 22, 2021 – Tropical Storm Henri made landfall with 60 mph winds near Westerly, Rhode Island.
August 21, 2021 – Hurricane Henri is forecast to move towards the Northeast states and all those in the path should prepare for Category 1 level storm surge at places along Long Island, the beaches of Connecticut, and coastal regions in to Massachusetts including Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. These locations are expecting a storm surge of 3-5 feet. After landfall, Henri will slow down and begin to move up the East Coast of most New England states. Even if Henri is downgraded to a tropical storm before making landfall, wind gusts will still be in the Category 1 range. It’s important to remember not to focus on the center of circulation as tornadoes and waterspouts, wind damage, flash flooding, loss of electricity, downed power lines, and structure damage can happen many miles away from the eye or center of circulation.
The Future For New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington DC And Other Northeast States
There are two meteorological conditions which keep the north relatively safe from tropical storms.
The first is sea surface temperatures (SSTs) which is the fuel that powers tropical systems. In the Northeast, even in the hot summer months, SSTs are just barely high enough to maintain a hurricane or tropical storm. And, they certainly aren’t high enough to allow a storm to strengthen.
The second condition is the jet stream which provides guidance winds along the East Coast. The jet stream typically keeps these storms out to sea or disrupts the core of the storm with shear.
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For cities like New York City, Philadelphia, Washington DC, and certainly Boston to see an intact hurricane with an enclosed eye, the jet stream will have to be situated very far north, the storm will have to be moving very fast, still have a good core presentation, and the waters off the coast will have to be at their warmest.
Are things about to change? We certainly think so considering global warming and climate change.
East Coast Changes
In the past decade, there are three very clear things happening with regard to tropical systems.
The first is these storms are becoming more frequent given higher SSTs in the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean, and southern Atlantic Ocean. With a higher frequency of storms, the odds of places like Washington DC and Philadelphia being hit increase.
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The second concern is these storms are becoming stronger because of sea surface temperatures. As storms reach a higher category status, the likelihood of them staying intact further north in to Boston and New York City increases.
And third, as SSTs increase, waters off the coastlines near these cities will increase just enough to sustain these storms, thereby increasing the chances of landfall with an intact and enclosed eye.
If this trend continues, then storms impacting the northern East Coast will only have to overcome the jet stream to make impacts felt over this region.
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