How Long Do Hurricanes Last on Average?

Hurricanes are known for their powerful, destructive nature. Rain, flooding, and strong winds have caused hundreds of deaths and billions of dollars’ worth of damage in the U.S. in the past year alone.

According to National Geographic, the best hope of defense against a hurricane is “an accurate forecast” that allows plenty of time for people in its path to evacuate the area. The storm surges and strong winds can’t — and won’t — be stopped.

If you live in the path of an incoming hurricane, if and when you might be able to return home depends on a number of factors. How long the hurricane runs its course is just one of many elements that could determine your travel plans (or lack thereof).

Here’s the typical life cycle of a hurricane, and how long most of these storms tend to last.

The longest hurricane in history

Hurricane

Hurricane | NASA via Getty Images

The longest-lasting hurricane in history also traveled farther than any other hurricane on record. It reached Category 5 status, stopped being a hurricane, and became a hurricane again. Even the most damaging storms in history didn’t last as long as this one.

Hurricane John hit the eastern Pacific ocean in August 1994. As it traveled, it crossed the International Date Line, became a typhoon, and circled back to cross the dateline and become a hurricane again. In total, John “lived” for 30 calendar days.

As you might guess, John was an exception to Mother Nature’s hurricane law-of-sorts. Most hurricanes don’t last nearly that long. Many storms die out before they cause massive damage. When a hurricane hits land, the only thing that can stop it is itself.

Stages of a hurricane life cycle

All hurricanes form and dissipate in the same way, though the size, intensity, and longevity of each can vary considerably. Before it becomes a hurricane, it has to reach certain wind speeds, moving through several stages before it receives a name and category.

Tropical depression — winds reach 38 miles per hour.

Tropical storm — winds reach 39 miles per hour and the storm gets a name.

Hurricane — winds reach 74 miles per hour or more and the hurricane is assigned a category:

  • Category 1: 74-95 mph winds produce some damage
  • Category 2: 96-110 mph winds produce extreme damage
  • Category 3: 111-129 mph winds cause devastating damage
  • Category 4: 130-156 mph winds cause catastrophic damage
  • Category 5: 157 mph or higher winds cause damage that makes the affected area uninhabitable for weeks, if not months.

Most storms never reach Category 5 status. Usually, a Category 5 storm rages every few years at most.

Once a hurricane hits land, something called a storm surge hits — a highly devastating and deadly part of the storm. Eventually, every hurricane loses steam. But not before it follows its own destructive path, leaving nothing but chaos behind.

A typical hurricane’s lifespan

Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma. | Helene Valenzuela/AFP/Getty Images

How long a hurricane lasts depends on whether or not it hits land. These storms form because of the warm air over ocean waters and grow stronger because of it.

When a hurricane leaves the ocean, it loses its main source of “fuel.” As soon as it reaches land, it gets progressively weaker until it dies out. Expose a force to friction, and it will eventually stop.

A typical hurricane lasts anywhere from 12 to 24 hours. But a hurricane can sustain itself for as long as a month, as Hurricane John did in 1994.

If a hurricane or other natural disaster is headed your way, make sure you’re prepared for the worst.