Are there Hurricanes in Costa Rica?

Over the past several weeks, many of you have called or emailed us to ask about the possibility of hurricanes hitting Costa Rica. For everyone who’s called, there are always several more people with the same question. Maybe this topic has been prevalent lately because many of our WRSC family is currently being affected by Hurricane Dorian. On Sept 1st, Hurricane Dorian reached 185 mph winds and Category 5 strength. Since then, the storm has dissipated, but still remains an impressive Category 2 storm and will effect millions of people along the East Coast, USA this week.

Remember, if you’re crazy enough to paddle out during these storms, practice extreme caution as these are not your typical swell events along the East Coast. Yes, Hurricanes create waves, but anyone chasing these storms should be aware of long-shore currents, multiple swell periods, rouge sets, and floating debris. In fact, the Get Out & Surf Podcast crew had an episode about their experience surfing hurricane swells.  So with all the hurricane talk, we’d like to tackle the question that’s on everyone’s mind:


Are there Hurricanes in Costa Rica?

Hurricane surf

September is the official peak of hurricane season in the Northern Hemisphere. If you want to get more specific, Sept 10th is the exact day when we’re most likely to have an active hurricane spinning in the Atlantic basin. Even with all this tropical activity, somehow Costa Rica is spared year after year from a direct landfall. Many of us remember the (almost) historic Hurricane Nate in October of 2017 which brought heavy rains and winds across the northern region of Costa Rica. Even though parts of northern Costa Rica experienced Category 1 hurricane force winds, Hurricane Nate officially made landfall (the location where the eye of the storm first strikes land) along the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua, not Costa Rica. In all of recorded history, a Hurricane has never actually made direct landfall on Costa Rican territory. This was a freak event.

Yes, September and October are Costa Rica’s rainy season with many tropical waves passing over the country, but there are still reasons to visit Costa Rica this time of year. The mountainous terrain through the center of Costa Rica prevents many tropical waves from reaching the flat lands of Guanacaste in the North-West region where Tamarindo is located. On a typical rainy season day, you can expect blue skies in the AM hours followed by intermittent tropical downpours in the afternoon. Interested to learn more? Here is an in-depth look at Rainy Season in Costa Rica.

No Hurricanes in Costa Rica? How is this possible?

The Coriolis Effect explains the reason why Hurricanes have trouble forming in the low latitudes adjacent to Costa Rica. The concept is difficult to explain, but we’ll do our best to explain it with upmost simplicity. Let’s dive in….First off, it’s important to understand that  Earth’s rotational speed 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 mental illustration: A plane takes off in Miami heading north to New York City. In actuality, 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 in the Northern Hemisphere is deflected to the right, while in the Southern Hemisphere, objects are deflected to the left traveling away from the equator.

How's this related to hurricanes in Costa Rica?

Well, the center of a hurricane has very low pressure that the high pressure around it is trying to fill. This constant balancing act on Earth between high and low pressure is called wind!. As the wind travels above the surface of the Earth towards the low pressure core of the hurricane (the eye), the wind is always being slightly deflected (like the plane in the above example) 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 because the Earth is simply too flat for the wind to be deflected from its destination and create a spinning low pressure system. And with Costa Rica’s northernmost border sitting at 9.55° north latitude, Costa Rica has been graciously spared from every direct landfall on records. Here’s an image of hurricane tracks in the Atlantic from 1980-2018.

hurricanes in the Atlantic
If you would like to help the victims of Hurricane Dorian, please visit the Team Rubicon Organization page and donate what you can. If you’d like to get down to Costa Rica during September or October, we will hook you up with our Free Room Fall Promotion. If you’re completely confused by this blog and would like to ask further questions, contact us at 1-888-318-7873 and ask for Ryan the meteorologist. As always, be safe out there and Pura Vida!


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