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East Coast and West Coast hurricanes, explained

Hurricane season for people on the East Coast is a familiar six-month-long event, but for people on the West Coast, seeing a tropical cyclone is an unusual site.

Tropical Storm Hilary prompted the National Hurricane Center to issue a Tropical Storm Warning for most of Southern California, marking the first time a warning of its kind was in effect for the region.

Mexico regularly gets hit with hurricanes, and in May, NOAA predicted an above-normal season for the Eastern Pacific.

The eastern Pacific hurricane season runs from May 15 to Nov. 30, while the Atlantic hurricane season begins a month later, ending on Nov. 30. An average Atlantic hurricane season has 14 named storms, seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes (Category 3 or above). The eastern Pacific hurricane season is slightly more active, with an average of 15 named storms, eight hurricanes and four major hurricanes.

However, most of those eastern Pacific storms don’t make it to the U.S. coastline because of trade winds along the Equator and cooler water temperatures.

But along the United States Gulf and Atlantic coasts, tropical storms and hurricanes make landfall much more frequently. This is due to the regions' position relative to steering winds, and due to the warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico and along the Gulf Stream, which is a current that parallels the Eastern Seaboard. Winds frequently steer tropical systems near the Gulf and Atlantic coasts and the warm waters fuel the health of the storms.

A defining characteristic of the Atlantic hurricane season is that peak activity occurs between mid-August and mid-October. Data from 1971 to 2020 shows that high levels of activity in the eastern Pacific tend to be spread out over a longer portion of the season.

NOAA/National Weather Service
NOAA/National Weather Service

Hurricanes, tropical storms and tropical depressions pose a variety of threats to people and property. Storm surge and inland flooding remain the number one and two causes of loss of life during hurricanes. As peak hurricane season approaches, continue to monitor updates.

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