Hurricanes and Tropical Cyclones

What are they?

Tropical Cyclones are large organized storms that form over warm tropical or subtropical water. Hurricanes, typhoons, tropical storms, and tropical depressions are all categorized as tropical cyclones. A tropical cyclone is said to make landfall when and where the center of the storm (also called the “eye“) comes ashore.  The radius of most storms averages about 300 miles, so areas far from landfall can still feel the effects.

Tropical Cyclones in North Carolina

North Carolina is no stranger to tropical cyclones, and all parts of the state have experienced impacts. On average, our coast sees a hurricane every 5-7 years1, and we often receive remnants of storms that make landfall in other parts of the country.

Storm surge is a key threat from tropical cyclones and hurricanes along the Outer Banks and coast of North Carolina. In 2019, following devastating landfills in the Bahamas, Hurricane Dorian turned northward, eventually making landfall on Cape Hatteras on September 6. The storm brought tornadoes, rainfall of 5-10 inches, and intense storm surge to the Outer Banks, especially Cedar Island and Ocracoke Island2.

North Carolina has also experienced impacts from winds, rainfall, and flooding from hurricanes in recent years. Hurricane Florence was an historic storm for the state whose slow movement combined with heavy rains led to extensive and prolonged flooding across many parts of the state. Florence was responsible for 45 confirmed fatalities, and caused an estimated $17 billion in damages. To explore more North Carolina hurricane statistics, visit our Hurricanes Database.

Explore the topics below to learn more about tropical cyclones and hurricanes.

Want to learn more?

Recent NCSCO Climate Blog posts on hurricanes in NC

Information about Hurricanes from NOAA

Lesson Plans & Activities

Follow that Hurricane! Tracking and Mapping (PDF)

Hurricane Resilience Curriculum


  1. Hurricane return periods. NOAA National Hurricane Center. Retrieved March 17, 2021.
  2. Hurricane Dorian event summary. NOAA National Weather Service Morehead City. Retrieved Marcy 17, 2021.