List of California hurricanes

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The remnants of Hurricane Nora over the southwestern United States

A California hurricane is a tropical cyclone that affects the state of California. Usually, only the remnants of tropical cyclones affect California. Since 1900, two tropical storms have hit California, one by direct landfall from offshore, another after making landfall in Mexico.

Since 1900, only four tropical cyclones have brought gale-force winds to the Southwestern United States. They are an unnamed tropical storm that made landfall near San Pedro in 1939, the remnants of Hurricane Joanne in 1972, the remnants of Hurricane Kathleen in 1976, and Hurricane Nora in 1997 which entered California as a tropical storm. In addition, a recently discovered and reconstructed hurricane just missed making landfall in 1858.

In most cases, rainfall is the only effect that these cyclones have on California. Sometimes, this rainfall is severe enough to cause flooding and damage. For example, floods from Hurricane Kathleen devastated Ocotillo, California and killed several people. Precipitation other than rainfall is unusual[1] in tropical cyclones because of their weak updrafts and lack of supercooled water.[2]

An improbable event[edit]

There are two reasons why tropical cyclones rarely strike California: sea surface temperatures, and the usual upper level steering winds in the eastern Pacific, with sea surface temperature being more important.

Tropical cyclones usually require very warm water to depth, generally above 26.5 °C (80 °F) extending to a depth of 50 meters (160 ft).[3]

The waters off California are cold even in summer. They rarely rise above 24 °C (75 °F) in near-shore southern California,[4] and usually don't get above 17 °C (63 °F) along most of the rest of the coast and outer coastal waters, although El Niño events may warm the waters somewhat. This is due primarily to the extensive upwelling of colder sub-surface waters caused by the prevailing northwesterly winds acting through the Ekman Effect. The winds drive surface water to the right of the wind flow, that is offshore, which draws water up from below to replace it. The upwelling further cools the already cool California Current which runs north to south along coastal California and even much of coastal Baja California. This is the same mechanism which produces coastal California's characteristic fog.

The second reason is the general path of tropical cyclones in the eastern Pacific. They generally move north-westward or westward due to steering by the prevailing upper level winds, which takes them far out to sea and away from land.[4]

These factors make eastern Pacific landfalls improbable north of about central Baja California. In those instances when upper level steering winds do allow a more northerly path, much cooler sea surface temperatures quickly weaken tropical cyclones that approach California, although torrential rainfall can still occur. For example, the September 24-hour rainfall record for Los Angeles is held by the 1939 Long Beach Tropical Storm, as of January 2007.[5]

List of cyclones[edit]

Hurricanes that affect California are mainly the remnants of hurricanes or tropical storms. In the twentieth century, only four eastern Pacific tropical cyclones have brought tropical storm-force winds to the Continental United States: the 1939 Long Beach Tropical Storm, Tropical Storm Joanne in 1972, Tropical Storm Kathleen in 1976, and Tropical Storm Nora in 1997.[6]

Pre 1930[edit]

  • After October, 1854: A system considered to be a tropical cyclone made landfall over Northern California, just north of the Golden Gate.[7]
  • October 2, 1858: The 1858 San Diego Hurricane approached very close to southern California. It brought several hours of hurricane and gale-force winds to an area stretching from San Diego to Los Angeles. This storm is reconstructed as just missing making landfall, dissipating offshore.[6]
  • Sometime before October 14, 1858: Since this tropical cyclone is reported in a newspaper as being only "one of the most terrific and violent hurricanes ever noted", the report may imply the existence of an earlier hurricane in Southern California.[6] Other than occurring before the newspaper account was published (October 18, 1858), everything else about this "hurricane", including whether it even existed, is unknown.[6]
  • Before June or after October, 1859: A system considered a tropical cyclone made landfall between Cape Mendocino and San Francisco Bay.[7]
  • August 11–August 12, 1873: Rain from a tropical storm fell on San Diego. The rain on August 12 set a record for wettest August day.[8]
  • July 20–July 21, 1902: The remnants of a hurricane brought rain to southern California.[9]
  • August 18–August 19, 1906: A cyclone moved north from the Gulf of California and brought rain to southern California.[9]
  • September 15, 1910: The remnants of a hurricane brought rain to Santa Barbara County.[9]
  • August 26, 1915: The remnants of a tropical cyclone brought around an inch of rain to Riverside.[9]
  • September 11–September 12, 1918: The remnants of a cyclone produced six inches (150 mm) of rain to the mountains of southern California.[9]
  • August 20–August 21, 1921: A cyclone moved north from Lower California and into Arizona, producing rain.[9]
  • September 30, 1921: The remnants of a cyclone moved from Baja California and brought rain to Arizona and parts of California.[9]
  • September 18, 1929: A cyclone in the Pacific Ocean generated rain in Southern California.[9]


  • September 28–October 1, 1932: The remnants of a hurricane brought four days of rain. Flash floods killed 15 people.[9]
  • August 25, 1935: A cyclone moved from the south and brought rain to southern California and parts of Arizona.[9]
  • August 9, 1936: A hurricane's remnants moving north brought heavy rains to the Los Angeles area.[9]
  • September 4–September 7, 1939: The remnants of a hurricane brought over a year's worth of rain to parts of southern California.[9]
  • September 11–September 12, 1939: The remnants of a hurricane in the Gulf of California brought rain.[9]
  • September 19–September 21, 1939: A dissipated cyclone brought rain.[9]
  • September 25, 1939: The 1939 California tropical storm made landfall near Long Beach.[9] Winds were near 80 km/h (50 mph) and rain was near 12 inches (300 mm). At sea, 48 people were killed. On land, 45 were killed in flooding, although these deaths may be partially attributable to a nasty thunderstorm immediately preceding the tropical storm.[5] This is the only known landfall by a cyclone at tropical storm strength in the twentieth century.[9]


  • September 1941: Moisture from a hurricane caused rain.[9]
  • September 9–September 10, 1945: A dissipated cyclone moved north and brought rain to southern California.[9]
  • September 30–October 1, 1946: The remnants of a tropical storm brought several inches of rain.[9]


  • August 27–August 29, 1951: The remnants of a tropical cyclone brought enough rain to wash out some roads in Southern California.[9]
  • September 19–September 21, 1952: The remnants of a hurricane brought rain to mountains in Southern California.[9]
  • July 17–July 19, 1954: The remnants of a hurricane moved into Arizona, bringing rain to the state and parts of California.[9]
  • October 1–October 6, 1958: The remnants of a hurricane moved into Arizona, causing heavy rain.[9]
  • September 11, 1959: The remnants of a hurricane generated some rain.[9]



Hurricane Heather on October 5, 1977
  • September 30–October 1, 1971: Atlantic Hurricane Irene crossed Central America and became Hurricane Olivia. Olivia eventually re-curved and made landfall in Baja California, with the remnants bringing rain to California.[9]
  • September 3, 1972: Tropical Depression Hyacinth made landfall[11] and produced rain around Los Angeles.[9]
  • October 6, 1972: Hurricane Joanne made landfall in Mexico and managed to bring gale-force winds to Arizona and rain to that state and California.[9]
  • September 10–September 11, 1976: Hurricane Kathleen crossed the peninsula of Baja California moved into California as a tropical storm. Yuma, Arizona reported sustained winds of 91 km/h (57 mph).[9] Rains from Kathleen caused catastrophic damage to Ocotillo, California and killed three[9] to six people.[12]
  • August 18–August 19, 1977: Hurricane Doreen dissipated off the coast of California.[9] The remnants moved inland and caused flooding and crop damage as 7.01 inches (178 mm) of rain fell on Yuma Valley, Arizona.[13]
  • October 6–October 7, 1977: Hurricane Heather's remnants moved into Arizona, bringing 8.30 inches (211 mm) of rain to Nogales, Arizona and up to 14 inches (360 mm) of rainfall to the adjacent mountains. This led to significant flooding.[14]
  • September 5–September 6, 1978: Tropical Depression Norman made landfall in California.[15] Its remnants produced several inches of rain.[9]


  • June 29–June 30, 1980: Hurricane Celia's remnants produced a minor amount of rain.[9]
  • September 17–September 18, 1982: Remnants from Hurricane Norman generated rain in Arizona and Southern California.[9]
  • September 24–September 26, 1982: The remnants of Hurricane Olivia produced inches of rain in California.[9]
  • September 20–September 21, 1983: The remnants of Hurricane Manuel caused rain.[9]
  • October 7, 1983: The very weak remnants of Hurricane Priscilla caused showers in Southern California.[9]
  • September 10–September 11, 1984: Hurricane Marie's weak remnants generated showers.[9]
  • September 22–September 23, 1987: The remnants of Hurricane Norma generate thunderstorms, which cause some flooding.[16]
  • October 5–October 12, 1987: Weather associated with Hurricane Ramon caused moderate to heavy rains in southern California. The highest amount noted was 2.14 inches (54 mm) at Camp Pendleton.[16]
  • September, 1989: Hurricane Octave's remnants brought rain to California, doing minimal damage.[17]


Hurricane Linda on September 12, 1997
  • June, 1990: The remnants of Hurricane Boris caused briefly heavy rainfall in southern California. This was one of the reasons that it was the wettest June in San Diego since record-keeping began in 1850.[18] Despite this, less than an inch (25 mm) of rain fell in most locations.[19]
  • July, 1992: The remnants of Hurricane Darby caused cloudiness in California. These clouds were also enough to delay the landing of the Space Shuttle Columbia for a day and cause it to land in Florida rather than California.[20]
  • August, 1992: Hurricane Lester's remnants caused rain in extreme southwestern California.[21]
  • August 5, 1997: Surf from Hurricane Guillermo causes a rip currents near Corona Del Mar and a place just north of Huntington Beach, injuring three and killing one.[22]
  • August 19–August 20, 1997: Tropical Storm Ignacio's remnants produced gusty winds over the outer waters of California, and passed directly over the San Francisco Bay Area, and then across the interior of the Pacific Northwest. Sporadic moderate to heavy rainfall was recorded.[23]
  • September 13–September 14, 1997: Hurricane Linda was at one point forecast to make landfall in California.[24] Instead, it moved out to sea, although waves from it did wash five people off a jetty in Newport Beach.[24]
  • September 25–September 26, 1997: After making landfall in Baja California, Hurricane Nora maintained tropical storm status into California and Arizona. Moderate to heavy rains fell across southeast California and Arizona, with a new 24-hour maximum for Arizona  305 mm (12 inches) falling in the Mogollon Rim. Damage totaled several hundred million, including US$40 million to lemon trees. There were a few indirect deaths caused by the hurricane.[25]


  • September 2001: Remnant moisture from Hurricane Flossie caused thunderstorms, lightning, and floods in Southern California. Lightning struck four people, killing two of them.[26]
  • September 30, 2001: Thunderstorms from the remnants of Hurricane Juliette caused minor damage to California[27] and brought rain of less than an inch (25 mm) to the area.[13]
  • August 2003: Remnants of Hurricane Ignacio produce powerful thunderstorms in Southern California.
  • September 2003: Remnants of Hurricane Marty drop large amounts of rainfall, in the Southwestern United States, especially Southern California and Southwestern Arizona.
  • July 2006: Remnants of Tropical Storm Emilia caused unsettled weather across the Southwestern United States. Rain from the remnants helped to extinguish the House Fire in Southern California.
  • September 2006: Remnants of Hurricane John triggered flash flood watches.[28]
  • August 26–August 27, 2007: Remnants of Hurricane Dean make landfall in Santa Barbara area, triggering heavy rains and minor flooding throughout the Southern California Area. Early on August 27, the storm eventually reaches Las Vegas, Nevada, and causes flash flooding there as well, before dissipating there later in the day.
  • August 27-August 29, 2009: Remnants of Tropical Storm Ignacio triggers heavy rains across Northern and Central California.
  • September 4, 2009: Remnants of Hurricane Jimena causes Severe thunderstorms to break out in Eastern San Diego County, California, causing flash floods, and a short blackout that lasted for only a few hours.
  • October 11–October 15, 2009: The remnants of Typhoon Melor (2009) affected California and broke several rainfall records.


  • July 18–20, 2012: Associated moisture and clouds from the remnants of Hurricane Fabio generated scattered showers and isolated thunderstorms across the Los Angeles Basin.[29]
  • September 6–7, 2012: Moisture from the remnants of Tropical Storm John brought scattered showers and thunderstorms to California.[30]
  • August 25–26, 2013: Moisture from the remnants of Tropical Storm Ivo caused some flooding in Southern California.[31]
  • September 3, 2013: Moisture from the remnants of Tropical Storm Kiko fueled the Monsoon across the Southwestern United States, produced scattered showers and thunderstorms.[32]

Climatological statistics[edit]

Most tropical cyclones impacting California do so in the month of September. September 1939 was "unprecedented" in having four tropical cyclones impact the state.[33]

Number of recorded storms affecting California
Month Number of storms
Number of recorded storms impacting California
Period Number of storms

Deadliest storms[edit]

The following is a list of all known tropical cyclone-related deaths in California.

Name Year Number of deaths
Unnamed 1939 45–93
Unnamed 1932 15
Kathleen 1976 3–6
Nora 1997 3–4
Flossie 2001 2
Guillermo 1997 1

Modern repeats[edit]

While rare, tropical cyclones do affect California, occasionally very seriously as far as rainfall is concerned.


Map of warning breakpoints

A modern repeat of the 1858 storm is estimated to cause damages of hundreds of millions of dollars.[6] A repeat of the 1939 tropical storm would cause around 200 million dollars in damage.[6] The most serious damage would be due to rains rather than winds or storm surge, although distant hurricanes may still create heavy surf,[24] possibly injuring or killing people. Nora caused millions in damage and skirted extreme southeastern California.


When Linda was forecast to make landfall, statements about its possible impact were issued by the Oxnard, California office of the National Weather Service. They stressed the uncertainty of a forecast that far in the future.

When Nora was threatening, "unprecedented coordination" was required between the NHC and several other agencies. The coordination was "smooth and effective".[25] However, no inland tropical storm warnings were issued for any area in the United States as Nora was approaching from the south.[25]

There are seven Pacific Coast breakpoints in the United States. They are, from north to south, Point Piedras Blancas, Point Sal, Point Conception, Point Mugu, the mouth of the San Gabriel River, San Mateo Point, and the mouth of the Tijuana River (although places outside this area can be selected if conditions warrant).[34] Should there be the threat of landfall, warnings or watches would be issued for those sections of coast. It is highly unlikely that any tropical cyclone will threaten areas farther north due to the stronger influence of the California Current.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Rappaport, Edward N; National Hurricane Center (January 17, 1996). Hurricane Marilyn: September 12 - 22, 1995 (Preliminary Report). United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Weather Service. Retrieved December 7, 2012.
  2. ^ Chris Landsea. "Subject: C5a) Why don't we try to destroy tropical cyclones by seeding them with silver iodide?". FAQ. National Hurricane Center. Retrieved 2008-01-14. 
  3. ^ Christopher Landsea. "Subject: A16) Why do tropical cyclones require 80 °F (26.5 °C) ocean temperatures to form ?". Tropical Cyclone FAQ. National Hurricane Center. Retrieved 2007-12-25. 
  4. ^ a b Christopher Landsea. "Subject: G8) Why do hurricanes hit the East coast of the U.S., but never the West coast?". Tropical Cyclone FAQ. National Hurricane Center. Retrieved 2007-12-25. 
  5. ^ a b "A History of Significant Weather Events in Southern California" (PDF). NOAA. January 2007. p. 10. Archived from the original on 2008-02-29. Retrieved 2007-12-26. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f Christopher Landsea & Michael Chenoweth (November 2004). "The San Diego Hurricane of October 2, 1858" (PDF). Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. American Meteorological Society. p. 1689. Retrieved 2007-12-26. 
  7. ^ a b Stephen S. Visher (June 1922). "Tropical Cyclones in the Northeast Pacific, Between Hawaii and Mexico" (PDF). Monthly Weather Review. American Meteorological Society. p. 296. Retrieved 2007-12-26. 
  8. ^ "A History of Significant Weather Events in Southern California" (PDF). NOAA. January 2007. p. 3. Archived from the original on 2008-02-29. Retrieved 2007-12-26. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an Jack Williams (2005-05-17). "California's Tropical Cyclones". USA Today. Retrieved 2007-12-26. 
  10. ^ "Tropical Storm Jen-Kath" (GIF). Unisys. Retrieved 2007-12-29. 
  11. ^ "Hurricane HYACINTH" (GIF). Retrieved 2007-12-26. 
  12. ^ "A History of Significant Weather Events in Southern California" (PDF). NOAA. January 2007. p. 16. Archived from the original on 2008-02-29. Retrieved 2007-12-26. 
  13. ^ a b Roth, David M; Hydrometeorological Prediction Center (November 16, 2012). "Tropical Cyclone Rainfall Point Maxima". Tropical Cyclone Point Maxima. United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Weather Service. Retrieved December 7, 2012. 
  14. ^ Hurricane Heather - October 5–8, 1977
  15. ^ "Hurricane NORMAN" (GIF). Retrieved 2007-12-26. 
  16. ^ a b "A History of Significant Weather Events in Southern California" (PDF). NOAA. January 2007. p. 21. Archived from the original on 2008-02-29. Retrieved 2007-12-26. 
  17. ^ Gil Clark (1989-11-09). "Preliminary Report Hurricane Octave (file 2)" (GIF). National Hurricane Center. Retrieved 2007-12-26. 
  18. ^ Max Mayfield. "Preliminary Report Hurricane Boris 9 (file 2)" (GIF). Retrieved 2007-12-16. 
  19. ^ "Remains of Boris" (GIF). Hydrometeorological Prediction Center. Retrieved 2007-12-26. 
  20. ^ Max Mayfield (1992-08-09). "Preliminary Report Hurricane Darby (file 3)" (GIF). National Hurricane Center. Retrieved 2007-12-26. 
  21. ^ "Hurricane Lester" (GIF). Hydrometeorological Prediction Center. Retrieved 2007-12-26. 
  22. ^ "Event Record Details". National Climatic Data Center. Retrieved 2007-12-26. 
  23. ^ "Remains of Ignacio". Hydrometeorological Prediction Center. Retrieved 2007-12-26. 
  24. ^ a b c Max Mayfield (1997-10-25). "Preliminary Report Hurricane Linda". National Hurricane Center. Retrieved 2007-12-26. 
  25. ^ a b c Edward Rappaport (1997-10-30). "Preliminary Report Hurricane Nora". National Hurricane Center. Retrieved 2007-12-26. 
  26. ^ Stacy R. Stewart (2001-10-27). "Tropical Cyclone Report Hurricane Flossie". National Hurricane Center. Retrieved 2007-12-26. 
  27. ^ Miles B. Laswrence & Michelle Mainelli (2001-11-30). "Tropical Cyclone Report Hurricane Juliette". National Hurricane Center. Retrieved 2007-12-26. 
  28. ^ National Weather Service San Diego (2006-09-04). "September 4, 2006 NWS San Diego Flash Flood Watch". NWS, archived at Wikisource. Retrieved 2007-12-26. 
  29. ^ Robert J. Lopez (2012-07-18). "Hurricane Fabio remnants cause thunder across Southern California". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-07-19. 
  30. ^ [1]
  31. ^ [2]
  32. ^ "U.S. Drought Monitor Report for the Week Ending Sept. 3 (Text)". Bloomberg. September 6, 2013. Retrieved September 6, 2013. 
  33. ^ "A History of Significant Weather Events in Southern California" (PDF). NOAA. January 2007. p. 9. Archived from the original on 2008-02-29. Retrieved 2007-12-26. 
  34. ^ "Hurricane and Tropical Storm Watch/Warning Breakpoints". National Hurricane Center. 2012-07-22. Retrieved 2012-07-22. 

External links[edit]