Virtually the entirety of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic coastlines has been raked by tropical storm- or hurricane-force winds during the hyperactive 2020 hurricane season, leaving only six coastal counties fully spared.
Ironically, a few of the six counties that missed out on the atmosphere’s tempestuous wrath this year have been among the hardest-hit counties in America over the past several seasons.
In Florida, only Franklin, Wakulla and Jefferson counties in the Big Bend weren’t impacted by tropical storm-force winds this year. That’s the same area that was severely damaged by the eyewall and inner rain bands of Category 5 Hurricane Michael on Oct. 10, 2018; western Franklin County was even placed under a rare extreme wind warning for “winds in excess of 130 mph.”
Parts of Florida’s Space Coast, scraped by hurricanes Dorian in 2019 and Matthew in 2016, also eluded tropical storm-force winds (small parts of Brevard and Indian River counties were impacted).
To the north, Martha’s Vineyard’s Dukes County also avoided tropical storm-force winds — although the Outer Cape, Nantucket and inner southeastern Massachusetts did not. The Vineyard frequently finds itself in the crosshairs of fierce winter storms that routinely bring winds of 50 to 75 mph.
The only other meaningful gap in this year’s tropical storm and hurricane wind swaths was in South Carolina, where Jasper and Beaufort counties have escaped the season unscathed.
That area, which encompasses Hilton Head Island, has seen a number of hurricanes over the years, including unnamed Category 2s in 1911 and 1940 while Hurricane Able hit Beaufort County in 1952 with 100 mph winds. This area also saw tropical storm-force winds in 2016 from Hermine as it worked up the coast.
While most of the East Coast (excluding the Gulf Coast) endured tropical storm-force winds in 2020, the only spot that wound up with hurricane-force winds was along the South Carolina-North Carolina border, where Isaias made landfall the night of Aug. 3 with maximum winds of 85 mph.
Gusts topping 75 mph affected seven counties before Isaias swept north and brought strong winds to the entire Mid-Atlantic region as it transitioned into a mid-latitude storm. The strong winds were accompanied by 39 tornadoes, including a deadly EF3 in Bertie County, N.C., the most powerful tropical cyclone-spawned tornado in the United States in 15 years.
Along the Gulf Coast, the tempestuous terror of 2020 has been a different story. Nine named systems have made landfall, including two in Cameron Parish, La. Laura hit in August as a high-end Category 4, devastating Lake Charles and surrounding areas; the beleaguered communities were hit by Category 2 Delta in early October.
In fact, every county in Louisiana experienced at least tropical storm-force winds, and the majority dealt with hurricane-force winds this season. The only other state fully covered by tropical storm or hurricane winds was North Carolina.
The bulk of the Tar Heel State and much of the Southeast saw tropical storm-force winds from Hurricane Zeta, which made landfall in southeast Louisiana on Oct. 28 at the brink of Category 3 strength. The storm paired with a potent jet stream to bring a dose of strong winds all the way into Tennessee, Georgia and the Carolina Piedmont, knocking out power to more than 2.5 million.
Even in the few areas that missed out on tropical storm-force winds in 2020, they were still forced to prepare for them. According to James Franklin, a meteorologist retired from the National Hurricane Center, 99.6 percent of the shoreline has been under tropical storm or hurricane watches and warnings.
With 30 named storms in the Atlantic Basin in 2020 and 12 of them making US landfalls, every mile of the US Atlantic coast has been under a tropical watch or warning (TS, Hur, Storm Surge). A busy season for @NWSNHC and coastal NWS offices. pic.twitter.com/Wi4NtRdxtS— NWS Corpus Christi (@NWSCorpus) November 16, 2020
Hat tip to Kyle Noël, whose tweet on this topic motivated our analysis.