Q: You always hear of hurricanes hitting the Gulf Coast, Florida and Texas, but has one ever hit California?
A: The answer is no, says Brent McRoberts of Texas A&M University. “In at least the last 100 years that we know of, no hurricane has ever hit the California coast,” McRoberts explains. “The reason is that tropical winds generally blow from east to west, meaning that storms that do form off the Pacific Coast get carried away from our West Coast. It’s not uncommon for storms to turn and hit the Mexican coast, but the water farther north in the Pacific is cold, and those storms tend to weaken quickly. In fact, Hawaii doesn’t get many hurricanes, either. The last big one to hit was Iniki in 1992.”
Q: So does the West Coast ever get hit by strong winds?
A: Yes, but not that often, McRoberts adds. “What’s generally considered to be the worst storm to hit the West Coast was the Columbus Day Storm of 1962,” he reports. “It’s believed to be strongest storm to hit the area since the 1880s. The storm – and it was a storm, not a hurricane – hit Oregon with 130-mile per hour winds, with gusts over 160. Western Washington State also had winds over 90 miles per hour, and Seattle had gusts clocked at over 80 miles per hour. Even in San Francisco, gusts were reported at 60 miles per hour. In less than 12 hours, more than 11 billion board feet of timber was blown down in Washington, Oregon and California and damage estimates were $250 million, and this was in 1962 dollars. A lot of West Coast storms are still judged by the Columbus Day Storm of 1962.”
Weather Whys is a service of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at Texas A&M University.