The community of Puerto Cabezas, home to more than 60,000 people, has endured two major hurricane eyewalls, and some places have seen 120- to 140-mph wind gusts twice in two weeks. If it sounds apocryphal, that’s because it’s virtually unprecedented. We combed through the books and turned up nothing like this before.
“I suspect the answer may be [it is unprecedented] given the extremely close position and high intensity,” wrote Philip Klotzbach, a hurricane researcher and statistician at Colorado State University.
There have been some unlucky areas and close calls before, but having two Category 4 hurricanes strike within 15 miles in just two weeks is something we couldn’t find matched in nearly 170 years of data. It’s yet another staggering record to fall in the 2020 hurricane season.
Where ‘double trouble’ has struck before
This year, Hurricane Laura struck Lake Charles, La., at the end of August as a Category 4, bringing widespread damage and destruction; the city narrowly avoided what would have been a catastrophic storm surge by only about 10 miles. The same region was hit by Category 2 Hurricane Delta 43 days later in early October, bringing winds up to 96 mph to Lake Charles and strewing piled-up debris from Laura about the landscape.
In 2017, Irma and Maria, both Category 5 storms, carved out parallel tracks through the tropical Atlantic about two weeks apart. Irma hit Barbuda, Anguilla and Saint-Martin at Category 5 strength in August before clipping the northern British Virgin Islands. Maria ravaged Dominica as a 165-mph Category 5 on Sept. 19 before its infamous siege on Puerto Rico as a Category 4. The two hurricanes’ tracks briefly came within about 75 miles of each other.
“Frances and Jeanne in 2004 also made landfall in close succession at almost exactly the same spot in Florida, but Frances was a 2 and Jeanne a 3 on the Saffir-Simpson scale,” Klotzbach wrote.
Frances came ashore on Sept. 5 in Port St. Lucie, with Jeanne hitting the same location with a direct strike just eight days later.
Frances and Charlie also crossed the same place in central Florida within three weeks in 2004 but at much lesser strengths. Charlie was a Category 4 at landfall in Gasparilla Sound near Port Charlotte on Aug. 13, but its winds had decreased to Category 1 strength as the circulation breezed through central Florida. Frances quickly weakened to a tropical storm after landfall while continuing on a bearing west-northwest.
North Carolina has seen a bout of double trouble as well. Connie made landfall between Atlantic Beach and Beaufort, near the Outer Banks, as a 100-mph Category 2 on Aug. 12, 1955. Ione’s landfall came just a half mile away on Sept. 19, also as a Category 2 storm with 105-mph winds.
Historically unlucky places
While not necessarily experiencing short-fused double whammies, there are some places that the atmosphere has historically been unkind to, including in Nicaragua. An unnamed Category 4 hit near Lake Bismuna, in northern Nicaragua, in 1941. Category 5 Edith made landfall there, too, but 30 years later.
Southern Quintana Roo, Mexico, is another hurricane magnet. Two Category 5 storms and a Category 4 — Janet, Dean and Carmen, respectively — have whirred ashore within about 40 miles of coastline since the 1950s. Harvey moved through there in 2017 as a tropical depression, long before its assault on the Texas coastline and the flooding that followed.
Likewise, the Yucatán Peninsula is a similar hotspot. Between Tulum and Puerto Morelos, a Category 5, four Category 4s, a Category 3 and three Category 2s had made landfall through 2019. Delta and Zeta made landfalls as Category 2 and 1 storms respectively.
Otherwise, there are some places that are just plain unlucky, like the Texas coastline just southwest of Galveston near Treasure Island. Between 1900 and 1932, three Category 4 hurricanes, all unnamed, made landfall within 20 miles. The 1900 hurricane resulted in between 6,000 and 12,000 deaths, the deadliest natural disaster to ever strike the United States.