Historical Hurricanes: 1999-Present
Hurricane Floyd Hurricane Floyd was the third major hurricane in the Atlantic in 1999. Floyd triggered the second largest evacuation in US history (behind Hurricane Rita) when 2.6 million coastal residents of five states including Florida were ordered from their homes as Hurricane Floyd approached peaking in strength as a very strong Category 4 hurricane near the eastern Bahamas. Hurricane Floyd remained just below Category 5 status for 12 hours while crossing the Bahamas, making landfalls on Eleuthera and Abaco islands, causing extensive wind damage especially to poorly-built structures on some islands. Floyd's track was one of terror for the U.S. as it at one point or another threatened to affect the coastlines from south Florida to Virginia as it paralleled the East Coast. The result of this tricky track was massive evacuations and costly preparations leading to the biggest peacetime evacuation in U.S. history. Ironically, Floyd weakened to a category 2 (105 mph) hurricane at landfall in coastal North Carolina, and its greatest impacts were not wind and not at the coast. Floyd produced devastating flooding rains across inland North Carolina which had been hit by heavy rains just a few weeks earlier by hurricane Dennis. Some of the hardest hit areas were Rocky Mount, North Carolina; Greenville, North Carolina along the Tar River; and Franklin, Virginia. These rains caused widespread flooding that lasted for several weeks; nearly every river basin in the eastern part of the state exceeded 500-year flood levels. In total, Floyd was responsible for 57 fatalities and $4.5 billion in damage. Much of that occurred in North Carolina, but other areas farther north such as New Jersey were also hit hard. Floyd once again illustrated that death and destruction can come from weak hurricanes well inland from the coast that cause terrible flooding.
Tropical Storm Allison Tropical Storm Allison was a weak tropical storm that left many portions of Houston, Texas under water. It was the first storm of the 2001 season, and its danger was a slow erratic track. Slow-moving tropical storms and hurricanes can dump huge amounts of rain and that is what Allison did. It drifted northward across SE Texas, and then turned back to the south and re-entered the Gulf of Mexico. In the process it caused tremendous rains in Houston where more than 38 inches of rain fell in a few days. 30,000 people became homeless after the flooding destroyed 2,744 homes. Downtown Houston was inundated with flooding, causing severe damage to hospitals and businesses. 23 people died in Texas. But Allison was not done. It reentered the Gulf of Mexico and slid slowly along the Gulf Coast causing rainfall flooding in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South and North Carolina all the way to Pennsylvania. Throughout its entire path, Allison caused $5 billion in damage and 41 deaths. Aside from Texas, the worst flooding occurred in Louisiana and Pennsylvania. Following the storm, President George Bush declared 75 counties along Allison's path as disaster areas. Allison is the only tropical storm to have its name retired without ever reaching hurricane strength and is the costliest tropical storm in Unites States history.
Hurricane Isabel Hurricane Isabel was the costliest and deadliest hurricane of the 2003 Atlantic hurricane season. Isabel formed on September 6th in the tropical Atlantic Ocean. It moved northwestward, and then westward; within an environment of light wind shear and warm waters it steadily strengthened to reach peak winds of 165 mph (a Category 5 hurricane). After fluctuating in intensity for four days, Isabel gradually weakened as it encountered upper level winds that were unfavorable making landfall on the Outer Banks of North Carolina as a 105 mph Category 2 hurricane. High waves and surge temporarily cut a new inlet across Hatteras Island, where thousands of homes were damaged or destroyed. The worst of of Isabel occurred in North Carolina and Virginia, but other states were affected too. Roughly 6 million were left without power in the eastern United States from the strong winds of Isabel. Rainfall from the storm extended from South Carolina to Maine and as far west as Michigan. Total U.S. damage from Isabel is estimated at about $3.4 billion. 16 deaths in seven states were directly related to the hurricane, with 35 deaths in six states and one Canadian province indirectly related to the hurricane.
Hurricane Charley Hurricane Charley was a small but powerful hurricane that struck the southwest coast of Florida near northern Captiva Island (where it caused a cut through that barrier island), then Punta Gorda, just north of Port Charlotte as a category 4 hurricane on August 13th. Charley's peak sustained winds reached 150mph at landfall, the strongest hurricane to hit the U.S. coast since category 5 hurricane Andrew in 1992. Charley had been moving toward Tampa/St. Petersburg, but made an eastward jog toward Florida south of the official forecast taking many coastal residents there by surprise. Surprising also was its rapid intensification from a Category 2 to Category 4 hurricane within 6-12 hours of landfall.
National Hurricane Center forecasting intern Robbie Berg publicly blamed the media for misleading residents into believing that a Tampa landfall was inevitable. In addition, he also stated that residents of Port Charlotte had ample warning as a hurricane warning had been issued for the landfall area 23 hours before, and a hurricane watch had existed for 35 hours. Charley was the strongest hurricane to hit southwest Florida since Donna struck the area in 1960. Because of its compact size, waves generated by it were mostly less than 15 feet and the storm surge from it was a huge underachiever. Normally one would expect a surge of 16-20 feet from a Category 4 hurricane in that area, however due to its very small size, maximum surge heights were mostly 8 feet or less. This by itself made a huge difference in coastal damage which was far less than would have been expected from a Category 4 in that area. Documentation of surge from this hurricane allowed scientists to better calibrate surge models for future small hurricane events! Charley continued to the northeast and passed through Orlando where winds gusted over 100 mph! This was the only the second time in history that a Disney park was closed due to a hurricane.
Charley left a narrow diagonal path of wind damage and destruction from the coast across the state toward the northeast; this wind damage was the primary impact from Charley as rains were modest. The damage was for the most part confined to within about 10 miles of Charley's track. Damage in Florida totaled over $13 billion. Charley made a third U.S. landfall near Cape Romain then North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina but winds had diminished to 80 mph by that time. Throughout the United States, Charley caused 10 deaths and a total of $15 billion in damage making it the fourth costliest hurricane in United States history (second at the time, but exceeded in 2005 by Katrina and Wilma).
Hurricane Frances Hurricane Frances reached Category 4 intensity of 145 mph on its path toward southeast Florida. San Salvador and Cat Island in the Bahamas felt the full force of Frances. Fortunately, Frances weakened to a Category 2 with winds of 105 mph before its large eye made it to Florida on the southern end of Hutchinson Island. Frances then moved through central Florida, briefly over the Gulf of Mexico, and then made a second landfall in the Florida Panhandle. Frances then turned north into Georgia as a tropical depression bringing heavy rains north with its large circulation, all the way into the Appalachians. In Florida, 41 counties received evacuation orders, covering 2.8 million residents, the largest evacuation in Florida's history. The economic effect was felt early, as the storm struck during Labor Day, traditionally the final summer vacation weekend. Many hotel reservations from South Carolina to Florida were cancelled. Some areas of Florida received over 13 inches of rain from large slow-moving Frances. Florida crops took large amounts of damage. Disney theme parks closed for only the third time from a hurricane, but the second time in a month as Charley had caused the second closure. Frances also dumped rain in Georgia (5 inches), Alabama and the Carolinas. A strip of upslope-induced rainfall along the Blue Ridge escarpment produced as much as 23 inches of rain in some areas of western North Carolina. Frances also spawned 101 tornadoes that were reported in Florida and states as far north as Virginia. The damage from Frances was estimated to be about $9 billion, making it the 7th costliest hurricane in United States history. As an extratropical storm, Frances passed through southern Ontario in Canada causing rains as high as 5 inches in some locations. These rains washed out roads and caused localized flooding in some areas.
Hurricane Ivan Hurricane Ivan was the third powerful hurricane to strike the United States in 2004. It reached category 5 intensity at its peak while over the water and is estimated to be one of the ten strongest in Atlantic hurricane records. After ransacking portions of the Windward Island (especially Grenada were 39 people were killed) and numerous islands along the northern Caribbean Sea (such as Jamaica where about 18,000 were left homeless, and Grand Cayman where the total death count grew to 64 and that island saw $1.85 billion in damage) it entered the Gulf of Mexico and turned north toward where it finally made landfall as a strong category 3 on the extreme eastern Alabama Gulf Coast near Orange Beach. Fortunately, Ivan had weakened significantly just before landfall, but still had winds of 120 mph. Ivan rapidly weakened that evening and became a tropical depression the same day, still over Alabama. Ivan was large and fast moving which resulted in formation of huge waves that pounded the coast from the Florida Panhandle to Mississippi. Offshore buoy reports indicated waves in excess of 60 feet with a single wave estimated as high as 130 feet. These huge waves heavily damaged offshore oil and gas platforms. The combination of huge surf, surge and strong winds wiped out many beaches and destroyed many coastal residences and structures. The result cost an estimated $14.2 billion in damage in the United States, making Ivan the fifth costliest U.S. hurricane. Ivan was considered a particular threat to the New Orleans area because dangers of catastrophic flooding. Thankfully, the city and the rest of the metro area dodged a bullet and flood walls held and only relatively minor wind damage was noted there. However, Ivan killed 25 in the United States, including fourteen in Florida. Thirty-two more deaths in the United States were indirectly attributed to Ivan. Tornadoes spawned by Ivan struck communities along the coast within the leading rain bands of Ivan, Panama City Beach was particularly hard hit by tornadoes. Ivan caused 117 tornadoes that spread from the Alabama and Florida Gulf coasts as far north as Maryland. In Pensacola, Florida, portions of Interstate 10 were heavily damaged. Numerous areas around Pensacola and coastal Alabama that bore the brunt of Ivan's winds, waves and surge were severely damaged. Rains spread inland and the Chattahoochee River in Georgia and many other rivers, streams and creeks in western North Carolina rose to near record levels.
Hurricane Jeanne Hurricane Jeanne was one of four hurricanes and one of three major hurricanes to strike the United States in 2004. Although destructive, its devastation was somewhat limited because it struck some of the same areas already damaged by Frances a few weeks earlier. Residents had not yet begun or finished fixing up their homes from the ravages of Frances by the time Jeanne struck southeast Florida as a Category 3 hurricane near Hutchinson Island only a few miles from the location Frances had struck. Jeanne continued through central Florida on a track very similar to Frances, just a little farther east over land. The result was a wide swath of power outages that left millions temporarily without electricity. Jeanne, like Frances, also moved into Georgia bringing flooding rains, but fortunately, it was a smaller and faster moving hurricane as it went through that state. Jeanne affected South Carolina and North Carolina and Virginia as well New Jersey, mostly with heavy rains (5-10 inches) and slightly damaging winds that caused power outages. Total U.S. damage estimates were $6.9 billion, which makes Jeanne the 13th costliest hurricane in the country's history. It is very likely damage would have been much higher if Frances had not already ransacked many of the same areas (especially in Florida).
Hurricane Dennis Hurricane Dennis was the first strong U.S. hurricane landfall during the most active Atlantic hurricane season on record. It struck Cuba as a strong Category 4 hurricane. It then moved into the Gulf of Mexico and disrupted oil platforms there, then weakened in the final hours prior to landfall to a 120 mph Category 3 hurricane as it struck between Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach Florida. Dennis caused at least 89 deaths across Caribbean and in the U.S. Heavy rains fell across most of the southeast U.S. Evacuations were required from the Florida Keys to Louisiana, however the Florida panhandle took the brunt of the hurricane's winds. Waves, surge (near 9 feet), tornadoes (10) and rain (10 inch maximum) affected coastal states from Louisiana to Florida and inland through Alabama and Georgia. Damage was localized due to the fairly compact size of the strongest winds, but nevertheless reached $2.2 billion in the United States.
Hurricane Katrina Hurricane Katrina was a very large and powerful hurricane reaching Category 5 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale while over open waters of the Gulf of Mexico. It weakened before striking the coasts of Louisiana and Mississippi and officially has been classified as a Category 3 hurricane at landfall. However, that makes it the lowest pressure in any Category 3 hurricane that has hit the U.S. 920 millibars was actually a lower pressure than the 922 in Category 5 Hurricane Andrew at landfall. Katrina's large size resulted in a very large portion of the U.S. coastline (from the Florida panhandle to western Louisiana) feeling the effects of its winds, waves and water rise.
No matter the category, this hurricane produced huge waves exceeding 40 feet and a coastal water rise based on best estimates that was somewhere between 26 and 31 feet in height. That makes it the greatest water rise on record in a U.S. hurricane. The results were catastrophic for coastal western Mississippi where homes were washed away more than ¼ of a mile inland from the coastline. What made Katrina a catastrophe in New Orleans was not the hurricane itself, but rather the failure of the levee system. Several breaks during and shortly after landfall resulted in widespread flooding of New Orleans with water as high as 10-20 feet deep in some portions of the city. People that failed to evacuate this city, parts of which are below sea level, were trapped atop their rooftops and many never made it that far, as they drowned in the floodwaters or perished in the event from heat, lack of water, severe stress or lack of medical attention while stranded.
The New Orleans Superdome became a refuge for 1,000s as the ordeal unfolded from helicopter for all of America to witness. This man-made disaster was compounded by the fact that water in the city receded very slowly (days) and some just stayed until it was pumped out. Existing levee pumps were rendered inoperable by the flood waters! The barrier islands near the mouth of the Mississippi went under water during the event and some never emerged as erosion destroyed them, others that remain today are a fraction of their original size and void of vegetation. These islands acted as a partial buffer to the waves and surge from hurricanes in the past. The next one will have fewer and smaller barriers in its path. Katrina will be remembered as a huge hurricane with record water rise and will always remind us of the vulnerable coastlines the U.S. has created over the past 100 years that have become disasters waiting to happen.
Hurricane Katrina, the costliest hurricane in U.S. history, has been estimated to have cost at least $81 billion dollars. That does not count the economic losses from displaced people and lack of commerce in the areas affected well after the event took place. Katrina was also the deadliest U.S. hurricane since the 1928 Lake Okeechobee Hurricane in Florida. The direct and indirect deaths related to Katrina is estimated to be 1833: 1577 in Louisiana, 238 in Mississippi, 14 in Florida, 2 in Georgia and 2 in Alabama. The number of fatalities directly related to the Katrina is estimated to be about 1500 of which 1300 occurred in Louisiana. This number is still uncertain and could change upward in time.
Hurricane Rita Hurricane Rita was yet another major hurricane to strike the Gulf Coast that year. After Katrina, coastal residents were nervous and Rita's angle to the coast caused residents in many areas including Houston to get out of town. The evacuation became a disastrous mess in Texas as roads jammed and cars ran out of gas on the roadways making an exit nearly a 1-day ordeal. Some died in the evacuation effort. Rita ended up making landfall near the Louisiana/Texas border as a Category 3 hurricane. It leveled the surge-prone beach communities in southwest Louisiana, but spared Houston from any significant winds and left it intact. Because Rita struck a relatively unpopulated portion of the coast the damage costs were "relatively" low; they would have been huge if it had made a direct hit on Houston/Galveston. However, many in southwest coastal Louisiana lost everything as the surge (15-20 feet) swept across the shallow beach and washed it clean for nearly one-forth of a mile inland near Cameron. Total U.S. damage estimates are $11.3 billion making it the 6th costliest hurricane in U.S. history. At its peak intensity in the Gulf of Mexico, Rita had a central pressure of 895 millibars, the 4th lowest on record for an Atlantic basin hurricane.
Hurricane Wilma Hurricane Wilma was the final U.S. hurricane disaster of the record-breaking 2005 season. Wilma intensified into strongest hurricane ever measured in the Atlantic Basin (based on pressure). A pressure of 882 millibars was measured by aircraft as it moved over open waters of the northwest Caribbean Sea. This intense Category 5 hurricane's eye shrank to an amazing record-breaking 2 miles across, the smallest ever sampled in the Atlantic. It weakened slightly to Category 4 as it become almost stationary near Cozumel Mexico, severe wind damage resulted and more than 5 feet of rain flooded many portions of northeastern Yucatan in Mexico. Wilma then turned back toward the northeast accelerating and expanding as it went, and then struck southwest Florida, near Naples bringing high winds, 5 -10 foot surge there and to the Florida Keys. But the biggest U.S. damage was yet to come. Wilma rapidly accelerated toward the northeast and across Miami, Fort Lauderdale and the Palm Beaches and although it had weakened to a Category 2 hurricane, the eye and strongest winds expanded in the process and wind gusts remained powerful over a very large area as it went across this populated area of Florida. The result was great damage to the many residential communities and office buildings there. Damage, mostly related to wind, was about $20.6 billion in Florida ranking it the third costliest hurricane in U.S. history.