The Longest-Lasting, Farthest-Tracking Hurricanes on Record

Jonathan Erdman
Published: August 9, 2018

Given the expectation of Hurricane Hector to extend its life into a third week, you might be wondering how long a hurricane or typhoon can last and how far it can track.

(MORE: Why Hector Might Turn Into a Typhoon)

NOAA's Hurricane Research Division dug into the historical hurricane track database to find both the longest-lasting and farthest-tracking tropical cyclones of record.

HRD cautions that historical tracks prior to the advent of satellites in the 1960s may be underestimated both in length and time.

One Clear Leader: John

The global longevity and distance leader has two names.

In August 1994, John became a hurricane in the eastern Pacific Ocean. It later intensified to Category 5 status well south of Hawaii.

From there, it just kept going.

Once John crossed the International Date Line, it became known as Typhoon John, after which it stalled, executed a hairpin loop while weakening, then tracked northeast back over the date line to become Hurricane John once again.

Track history of Hurricane/Typhoon John in August and September 1994.

In total, John spent 30 full calendar days as a tropical cyclone, traveling 8,188 statute miles, more than double the distance between Tampa, Florida, and America's northernmost city, Utqiagvik – formerly known as Barrow – Alaska.

Atlantic Basin Leaders

The deadliest hurricane on record in Puerto Rico was also the longest-lasting Atlantic tropical cyclone.

The 1899 San Ciriaco Hurricane carved a C-shaped path from southwest of the Cape Verde Islands through the Lesser Antilles, Puerto Rico, Hispañola, the Bahamas and eastern North Carolina before taking a curvy path over the northern Atlantic Ocean.

The hurricane was a tropical cyclone for 27.75 days, according to NOAA HRD, claiming an estimated 3,369 lives in Puerto Rico, the island's deadliest hurricane on record.

For a tropical cyclone to last that long, winds aloft need to slowly push it over as much ocean as possible, minimizing interaction with land.

Limiting factors to tropical cyclone longevity are larger land masses, transitioning to a post-tropical cyclone after getting caught up in the jet stream, or dissipating due to dry air or strong wind shear.

Meandering tropical cyclones can linger for days when steering winds aloft either collapse or change direction.

One example just behind San Ciriaco on the Atlantic's longevity list was 1971's Hurricane Ginger.

Ginger first tracked toward the east-northeast before doing a virtual 180-degree turn east of Bermuda and almost doubling back over part of its previous track before angling toward the North Carolina coast.

The track history of Hurricane Ginger in 1971. Note the yellow segment off the East Coast was when Ginger was a post-tropical cyclone.

Hurricane Nadine in 2012, fourth on the Atlantic longevity list, lollygagged near The Azores in the eastern Atlantic Ocean, eventually spending 22 days as a tropical cyclone.

Its track history resembled something a toddler might scribble.

Track history of Hurricane Nadine in 2012. Note that Nadine was not categorized as a tropical cyclone over the two yellow segments near The Azores.

The Atlantic's distance champion was from the 1960s – Hurricane Faith first became a tropical depression just off the coast of western Africa on Aug. 20, 1966. After traveling 7,894 statute miles, Faith ended its voyage as a tropical cyclone on Sept. 6 near the Faroe Islands north of Scotland.

(MORE: 17 Moments We'll Never Forget About the 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season)

Track history of Hurricane Faith in 1966. Note that Faith was no longer a tropical cyclone during the final yellow segment in the map west of Norway.

NOAA HRD noted the average longevity of an Atlantic tropical cyclone in their investigation was 5.8 days, traveling an average of 1,726 statute miles.

Jonathan Erdman is a senior meteorologist at weather.com, an incurable weather geek since a tornado narrowly missed his childhood home in Wisconsin at age 7, and a contributor to The Weather Channel Podcast. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.


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