Are there hurricanes in Costa Rica?

September 22, 2017

Over the past couple of weeks many of you have called or emailed us to ask about the possibility of hurricanes hitting Costa Rica. For everyone who calls, there are probably a few more of you out there with the same question, so we wanted to reach out and answer some questions in here.

September is the official peak of hurricane season in the Northern Hemisphere. In all this tropical activity, Costa Rica is fortunate, and continually spared from the direct impact of major hurricanes. Many of us remember the (almost) historic Hurricane Otto last November which brough heavy rains and winds across the northern region of Costa Rica. But, Otto officially made landfall (the location where the eye of the storm first strikes land) along the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua, not Costa Rica. A true Hurricane, defined as a tropical cyclone with winds over 74 mph, has never actually made direct landfall on Costa Rican territory. 

How is this possible?

The Coriolis Effect explains this phenomena. This is a bit difficult to explain, but we’ll take a shot for you: the speed of Earth’s rotation varies depending on your location. At the equator, the Earth is rotating at 1018 mph while at 30° north latitude (roughly the Florida / Georgia boarder) the Earth is rotating at 882 mph. Here’s an image illustrating this effect:

What does this mean?

Here’s an illustration: A plane takes off in Miama heading true north to New York City. The plane will have to continuously adjust course to stay on track because the Earth rotates faster at the equator and slower as you get closer to the poles. An object traveling away from the equator is deflected to the right, where in the Southern Hemisphere, objects are deflected to the left.

What does this have to do with hurricanes?

Well, the center of a hurricane has very deep low pressure that the high pressure around it is trying to fill in with wind. As the wind travels above the surface of the Earth towards the core of the hurricane (the eye), the wind is always being slightly deflected giving the storm its signature spinning shape.

Sitting comfortably about 8 degrees North Latitude, Costa Rica is too close to the equator for the Coriolis Effect to come into play. In fact, between 10° south latitude and 10° north latitude, hurricanes are practically unheard of. The Earth is simply too flat for the wind to be deflected from its destination and create the spin. And with our northernmost boarder sitting at 9.55° north latitude, Costa Rica has been graciously spared from every recorded land-falling Hurricane in history. Here’s an image of hurricane tracks in the Atlantic from 1980-2005.

Of course, you can never predict the weather, but so far, Costa Rica has been unscathed to date. So, you don’t have to worry when planning a fall trip to our beautiful country!


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