Houston Hurricane

A family evacuates their home in Houston as floodwaters from the remnants of Hurricane Harvey rose high enough to begin filling second-story homes.

Mark Mulligan, Houston Chronicle

Q: Why don’t we ever hear about hurricanes hitting the West Coast?

A: While hurricanes — cyclones or typhoons, as they’re called in the Pacific Ocean — frequently strike the Gulf Coast states of Texas and Florida, they rarely hit the West Coast states of California, Oregon and Washington.

Hurricanes feed on warm ocean water. Ones that form in the eastern Pacific sometimes make landfall in Mexico, but cool water off the coast of California usually helps prevent hurricanes from hitting the western states, said Chris Velden, senior scientist at the UW-Madison Space Science and Engineering Center.

In addition, winds in the tropics blow east to west, meaning hurricanes that form in the eastern north Pacific Ocean move away from the western coast of North America, said Jim Kossin, an atmospheric research scientist at UW-Madison.

Hurricanes are most common in the western part of the north Pacific Ocean, where they’re called typhoons, he said.

Occasionally, Velden said, cyclones threaten the Hawaiian Islands, but even then, landfall is rare.

More frequently, western interior states are impacted by hurricane remnants like rain, he said.

— Chris Aadland

Editor's Note: This story has been changed  to correct the reference to the Gulf Coast state of Texas. 

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Chris Aadland is a reporting intern for the Wisconsin State Journal.