Fact Check

No Hurricane Has Been Known To Cross the Equator?

Snopes found evidence of this claim circulating online since at least 2003.

Published Oct. 29, 2023

 (Screengrab/Reddit)
Image Via Screengrab/Reddit
Claim:
No hurricane has been known to cross the equator.

That hurricanes do not cross the equator is a claim that has spread online for years, and that’s because the concept on which this idea is based – the Coriolis Effect – is a complex one.

Earth's rotation influences winds and surface ocean currents, creating the above-mentioned effect. Along the equator, circulating air is deflected from a straight pattern into a curved path. This results in a right-bound deflection in the Northern Hemisphere and a leftward deflection in the Southern Hemisphere.

Snopes found examples of the claim dating back to at least 2003, with posts suggesting as much having appeared on various social media platforms, including TikTok, Instagram, Quora, and the below Reddit post, which had over 45,000 upvotes at the time of this publication:

No hurricane has ever crossed the equator
byu/not_so_pro_pga inDamnthatsinteresting

Through a reverse-image search, Snopes determined that the graphic above is genuine and was published by NASA Earth Observatory. It showed the tracks of tropical cyclones based on hurricane data available from 1851 through 2006.

Snopes reached out to the National Weather Service, which also confirmed the claim that no hurricane has ever crossed the equator is true based on the agency's records.

Hurricanes are grouped into categories, with 3 through 5 being the most severe. In the image, bright red swashes of color indicate where numerous Category 5 storms have traveled over time while orange and gold lines indicate Category 3 and 4 storms. Meanwhile, the blue and yellow paths show weaker Category 1 and 2 storms.

An atmospheric force known as the Coriolis Effect prevents hurricanes from crossing the equator. As NASA stated:

The Coriolis force results from the Earth’s spherical shape and its rotation. The force keeps air from moving in a straight line across the surface of the Earth. Instead, the Coriolis force spins moving air to the right in the Northern Hemisphere and to the left in the Southern Hemisphere. The Coriolis force is strongest near the poles, and zero at the equator. Although frequent thunderstorms do occur at the equator, the air rushing into the low-pressure centers of these storms doesn’t get the needed “spin” from the Coriolis force, and so the storms don’t develop the large-scale rotation that sets them on the path to becoming hurricanes.

"The mechanisms are mainly due to the Earth's rotation and the trade winds blowing from east to west about 20 to 30 degrees north and south of the equator. The motion of the trade winds, in combination with the spin of the earth, results in the phenomenon called the Coriolis Effect," wrote NWS' Maria Torres in an email sent to Snopes.

"As the warm, moist air from the equator rises in the atmosphere and cools, becoming clouds, it eventually develops into storms in the tropical regions. The storm will gradually steer away from the equator due to the Coriolis effect."

This steering is provided by a high and low-pressure area in the atmosphere that essentially "steers the tropical cyclones always away from the equator." The Coriolis force is weakest at a latitude of zero — hurricanes cannot form within five degrees latitude of the equator, explained the National Weather Service.

Sources

“Dear Tom,Can Hurricanes Cross the Equator? If...” Chicago Tribune, 21 Sept. 2003, https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-2003-09-21-0309210030-story.html.

“Has a Hurricane Ever Crossed the Equator?” Quora, https://www.quora.com/Has-a-hurricane-ever-crossed-the-equator. Accessed 12 Oct. 2023.

Historic Tropical Cyclone Tracks. 2 Nov. 2006, https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/7079/historic-tropical-cyclone-tracks.

Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/p/CxYyD4Noyqk/. Accessed 12 Oct. 2023.

not_so_pro_pga. “No Hurricane Has Ever Crossed the Equator.” R/Damnthatsinteresting, 18 Sept. 2023, www.reddit.com/r/Damnthatsinteresting/comments/16m4wbv/no_hurricane_has_ever_crossed_the_equator/.

“The_simulator on TikTok.” TikTok, https://www.tiktok.com/@the_simulator/video/7218574895876164890?lang=en. Accessed 12 Oct. 2023.

US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The Coriolis Effect - Currents: NOAA’s National Ocean Service Education. https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/tutorial_currents/04currents1.html. Accessed 12 Oct. 2023.

Weather Radar Fundamentals. http://research.atmos.ucla.edu/weather/C110/Documents/tmp/basic_wxradar/navmenu.php_tab_1_page_7_0_0_type_text.htm. Accessed 12 Oct. 2023.

Madison Dapcevich is a freelance contributor for Snopes.

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