What Are Cape Verde Hurricanes?

by CruiseReady

Learn a little about Cape Verde Hurricanes, and why some weather watchers consider them a real threat. Why? Because knowing what you may face is part of Emergency Preparedness

Most of us who live in hurricane prone areas keep a wary eye on all of the tropics during the entirety of what is known around here as “the season” – hurricane season, that is.

But, there is a particular part of that period when we pay particular attention to what is happening near the west coast of Africa. While that’s a long, long way from Florida, or the Caribbean, and the Texas to Mexico Gulf Coast, we still keep a careful watch on it. That’s because we know that a little piece of slightly disturbed weather way over there could eventually turn into something big and mean over here.

That " something big and mean" is a Cape Verde Hurricane. This particular type of system might not amount to much, and we hope it won’t But then again, it might. And when it does, look out!

Hurricane Andrew

Was a Cape Verde Type Storm

Hurricane Andrew Was Here

Andrew Was Here - By National Hurricane Center [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This home suffered damage from Andrew, but not nearly as much those in the hardest hit area.  At least the walls are (mostly) still standing!

Although he struck over 20 years ago, this Category 5 system is still seared into the memories of many in the Bahamas, South Florida, and Louisiana.  He originated from a tropical wave that moved off the coast of Africa and into the Eastern Atlantic in mid August of 1992.

Andrew was the third strongest land falling hurricane in U.S. history, behind Camille (1969) and the Labor Day storm of 1935.  He was also the fourth costliest in the Nation's history, his 165 mph winds virtually leveling over 60,000 homes and businesses in the Homestead, FL, area, including most of Andrews Air Force Base.

Several factors, including a relatively small wind-field, actually limited damage from storm surge, which has played a roler in other Cape Verde systems, including one that struck in 2004 - Hurricane Ivan.


What is a Cape Verde Hurricane?

And Where Does It Originate?


Hurricane Andrew, Approaching South Florida

A Cape Verde Hurricane is one that began life as a patch of disturbed weather over the Saharan Desert, then moved off the west coast of Africa, becoming a tropical wave.  As a wave  moves through or near the Cape Verde Islands, it may develop  into tropical cyclone.   When it does so while still within about 600 miles or the islands, it will be known as a Cape Verde system.

Many don't survive the long trek across the Atlantic, but some do.  Those that do can end up being very large and / or intense storms.  

Some have made history for themselves, and have etched themselves into our collective memories, like Hurricane Andrew, and that deadly and devastating one that struck Galveston in 1900.

Here is a selection of a few basics about these types of tropical systems - a simplified sampler, if you will. 

Image:  Hurricane Andrew making landfall in South Florida  (modifications mine)

Peak Hurricane Season

And Cape Verde Season

When is the Cape Verde Season?

There are no exact dates, like with the official hurricane season, which begins on June 1 and ends on Nov 30. There is, however, a general time frame for when these types of storms are most likely to form. Not surprisingly, it at least partially coincides with the times when the tropics tend to be most active.


 We refer to that active period as the peak season. While there is no year to year guarantee, this usually is from about the first or second week of August, through about the end of October. There is, however, a general time frame for when these types of storms are most likely to form. Not surprisingly, it at least partially coincides with the times when the tropics tend to be most active.

Many years, the Cape Verde season ushers in the beginning of peak season, with waves coming off the African coast. The time frame for this activity is typically from about late July through sometime in September.

Note, however, that these dates are not absolute. That is, in all three cases - activity can occur before the normal starting date, and after the usual ending time.


Image source: my own compilation of two public domain open clip art images, with modifications. 

Where are the Cape Verde Islands?

Do They Get Hammered by These Storms?

Location of the Cape Verde Islands

The Republic of Cape Verde is about 350 miles off the western coast of North Africa.  About half a million people live in the country, consisting of 10 islands, nine of which are inhabited.  There are also eight islets in the archipelago.

Hammered?  Not usually. These islands have a mild climate.  While the country rarely gets a full blown hurricane, they can get some heavy rainfall from tropical waves or depressions that may eventually become named storms or hurricanes as they cross the Atlantic Ocean.  Intensification normally doesn't happen to any great degree while the system is still in the vicinity of the Cape Verdes.

Image source:

By Waldir [CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Nautral Disaster Emergency Supplies

Do You Have What You Need?
Streamlight 44931 The Siege Lantern

Versatile emergency light can be set on a table top, or hung either rightside up or upside down. Uses three D cell batteries - you'll probably want extras. Power could be out for days.

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MIDLAND WR300 Weather Radio

This is the same brand we use in our home, though this is a newer model. A NOAA Weather radio is not just nice to have - it's essential!

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Hurricane Dean

A Memorable Cape Verde Storm


Satellite image of Hurricane Dean, August,2007

Hurricane Dean, in 2007, was that year's strongest storm.  He began as a wave that came out of Africa on August 11.  Within two days, he had passed the islands, and become Tropical Depression Number Four.

Six days later, he had managed to cross the ocean and become a hurricane. In the process of transitioning from the Atlantic to the Caribbean, he intensified further. and quickly became a Major (Category Three) Hurricane.

After visiting the Major Antilles as a Category 4 storm, he assaulted the Yucatan with Cat 5 winds of 165 mph, gusting to 200.  He inflicted great damage, and virtually destroyed the little coastal fishing village of Majahual.  The massive (and very sturdy) concrete cruise ship piers at Costa Maya were ripped up.

Miraculously, there were no fatalities in Majahual.  Sadly, that was not the case everywhere.  Dean was a killer, leaving 45 people dead from St. Lucia to Mexico
, and causing over 1.6 billion dollars in damage.

Two other systems that originated from African Waves that year were  Hurricane Karen, and Tropical Storm Melissa.  Neither one ever found any land.

Image: By NOAA / Satellite and Information Service [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Long Trackers

Need Favorable Conditions to Make it Across the Atlantic

Cape Verde Hurricane Paths Image Credit:  NOAA, PD

When a Hurricane makes all the way across, we call it a long tracker, because it has maintained its structure while traveling such a great distance.  Long trackers need several things to survive and make it across.


Ever hear of the Bermuda High?  or the Azores High?  That's a big area of high pressure over the ocean, shown as the tropical ridge in the illustration.  Since the hurricane is a low pressure system, it doesn't 'mix' well with the high one.  So, the low pressure system wants to go around it.  To do that, it has to first move west, along the ridge's southern border.  That's a good example of one way atmospheric conditions can 'guide' a tropical system.  Other currents, fronts, or ridges can come into play, as well.


Warm water is fuel for tropical systems.  They need it to develop, strengthen, and maintain strength.  Sea surface temperatures of 80 degrees F (26.5 C) and above are ideal.  So is nice, warm, moist air that has little or no dust in it.


Vertical wind shear means how the winds are behaving from one level to the next higher one. If there is a big difference in direction or speed going upwards, then that's high wind shear.  Storms don't like to run into that.  It can weaken them significantly.  When there's little to no wind shear, they have a better chance to get stronger.

Were You Already Familiar With Cape Verde Hurricanes?

Have you learned something new?

Staying Connected

During a Power Outage

Sometimes, the aftermath of a hurricane, flood, blizzard, or other natural disaster is something not everyone is prepared for.

After one hurricane, my brother's neighborhood was without electrical power for eight long days. Not only did he not have lights, television, air conditioning, or the ability to keep food edible, but he couldn't text or email anyone once his devices ran out of juice.

With your own power bank, you can keep your electronic devices powered up in an emergency outage, so that you can stay connected.  The one shown here has three usb ports, and power for several complete charges.  What's more, it even has your three initial monogram on it!

Extra Power for an Emergency

Compass Rose Monogrammed Power Bank

Flooding Prior to Landfall

As Hurricane Ike Approached Texas

Galveston as Ike Approaches

 Before the Storm, by Jocelyn Augustino (Public Domain image from the FEMA Photo Library)  

Bayou Vista, TX, September 12, 2008

Ike, in 2008, was a dangerous tropical cyclone that began life two weeks earlier as a tropical wave off the coast of Africa.  The picture above shows flooding on Friday.  Landfall was at Galveston Island, on Saturday.

It is worthwhile also to note that this is not an oceanfront neighborhood.  Bayou Vista is on the mainland, just across the bay from Galveston island, and about 10 miles from the famous seawall..

Other Names You'll Recognize

And Some You May Not

Not all of the storms whose names we remember so well were Cape Verde Hurricanes.  For instance, Katrina spun up over the Bahamas.  She was what we refer to as a 'home grown' storm.

Hurricane Ike's Track:

Ike 2008 track

However, quite a few of the storm names that have gone down in history started out in life as a chunk of  disturbed weather over the Saharan Desert, and emerged off the coast to become a tropical wave, and eventually a hurricane, and maybe even a major one.

These are some of the history making Cape Verde storms that you may recognize, with their categories in parenthesis:

The Great Galveston Hurricane (4) - 1900.  Believed to have been a Cape Verde storm, based on reports from ships at sea. It was the deadliest natural disaster ever in the United States, with estimates of 6,000 to 8,000 deaths.  No one ever knew the real count for sure.  Galveston Island was devastated.

Hugo (5) - 1989.  Came ashore as a Cat 4 at Charleston, S.C.

Andrew (5) - 1995 .  Virtually leveled most of the buildings in Homestead, FL. 

Ivan (5) - 2004.  Numerous landfalls.    123 lives lost in the Caribbean and the US. 

Frances (4) - 2004. Affected every island in the Bahamas, much  Florida, and points north all the way into Ontario 

Emily (5) - 2005. Holds the record for the earliest Cat 5 ever. (Jul  16) 

Ike (4) - 2008. Another that wreaked utter havoc on Galveston island.  195 were killed in the Dominican Republic Haiti, Cuba, and the United States.  Another 34 were never accounted for.  In terms of  property damage, Ike was history's third costliest Atlantic Hurricane.


  Hurricane Julia's Track:

Julia 2010 track

Others developed sufficiently to be classified as hurricanes, but never made it across the wide expanse of water, and dissipated at sea.  There are many storms that fit this definition.  Most of them didn't even make an impression on very many people at the time, much less the history books.  

Here are three random examples from recent years:


Cindy (4) - 1999

Danielle (2)  - 2004

Julia (4) - 2010

. . . and others

Learn More About Hurricanes

On These Pages
The 2017 Atlantic Basin Hurricane Season arrives on June 1. What tropical activity will this year bring? Predictions from five sources; Names that will be used .
More hurricane deaths are associated with water than with high winds. And the worst of a hurricane's water often comes from storm surge. How much do you know about surge?
Updated: 07/27/2017, CruiseReady
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?

Are you wary of Cape Verde Hurricanes?

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DerdriuMarriner on 09/06/2017

CruiseReady, It is scary to consider Cape Verde hurricanes traversing the Atlantic and the Caribbean to Texas. Were you in the path of any of the storms?

CruiseReady on 07/17/2015

Having been around these systems for long enough to know what they can do, we take evacuation orders seriously. Sounds like you know to do so too.

blackspanielgallery on 07/16/2015

I personally experiences Betsy, Camille, and had evacuated for Andrew and Katrina. My first hurricane was in 1947, an unnamed system.

CruiseReady on 05/23/2015

To be fair, frankbeswick, you aren't alone. Even here, where we could take a hit in any given season, there are large numbers of people who have very little knowledge about tropical systems in general.

Yes, I love the sea, and everything that goes on it, and lives in it. That includes maritime history, which your country played such an enormous role in shaping!

frankbeswick on 05/23/2015

Interesting information. Over here in the UK we hear of the hurricanes, but we don't have any mention of a Cape Verde source for them. I was also unaware of the significance of wind shear, so that is something learned from this article.

I must say that having someone who can write about the sea is a great addition to Wizzley. I love the sea [I'm a Brit, can you expect me to be otherwise?] but I haven't the kind of knowledge of it that you have.

CruiseReady on 05/22/2015

It's always a good day when someone learns something!

MBC on 05/22/2015

I live land bound in Colorado so snow and floods do affect me here, but not hurricanes. Interesting article I did learn a lot. Thanks

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