While researching Washington's history of earthquakes yesterday, I wanted to see what kind of environmental hazards the Pacific Northwest and Washington itself are vulnerable to from the coast. We certainly have tsunami risk up and down the coast, but the likelihood of that having tremendous environmental damage to the cities and towns more insulated by the Cascade Mountains is extremely low.
Can Washington get hurricanes?
The short answer is no, Washington is not at risk for hurricanes. The main reason is the water is much colder than what a hurricane needs to form. The surface level of the Pacific Ocean waters that line the west coast can be anywhere from 50 to 65 degrees, which is a far cry from the 79-degree minimum temperature needed for a hurricane. In other words, the Pacific Northwest is just too cold for hurricanes. But that doesn't mean the Pacific Northwest never gets storms on the ocean.
What kinds of Pacific Ocean storms can hit Washington?
So, hurricanes hitting Washington are essentially impossible. However, throughout its history, Washington has been victimized by various oceanic storms. Washington has been hit by Pacific Northwest windstorms, which can be very dangerous and costly. These windstorms are considered cyclones. Notable examples of this include the Great Coastal Gale of 2007, which had wind gusts of over 135 MPH hitting the coast of Washington. 18 people died as a result of the storm, most of them from carbon monoxide poisoning as they tried to keep warm with the loss of power. This storm in particular had strength comparable to a hurricane.