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Date of Issue: March 30, 2005

Sandscript

2004 hurricane history lesson - history we'd like to forget

The 2004 Atlantic hurricane season ended yesterday. To say that the last few months were eventful is definitely an understatement. Florida saw an unprecedented four major hurricanes make landfall in a six-week period. Virtually no portion of the state was spared damage from Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan or Jeanne.

Power losses were staggering. Loss of property was immense. Fortunately, loss of life from the storms was comparatively slight.

The following recap of the season comes compliments of Cyclone Jim Leonard. His Web site, cyclonejim.com, is full of some pretty great pictures and descriptions of the storms. He has chased 62 hurricanes in the last 54 years, with his first, Hurricane King in the Miami area, experienced as he was a mere eight months old.

Hurricane Charley

Hurricane Charley began as a tropical disturbance that emerged from the west coast of Africa during the first couple of days of August. On Aug. 7, the disturbance began to show signs of organization. Two days later, the system began to develop further and was upgraded to a tropical depression as it moved across the southern Windward Islands. The next day, Tropical Storm Charley was created.

Charley had throughout its life cycle a very tight inner core. On Aug. 11, the small tropical storm was approaching Jamaica and made a zig-zag track, bypassing the island as the storm intensified into a hurricane. During the next 24 hours, Hurricane Charley made a gradual turn to the north as it headed toward the central Gulf of Mexico and steadily intensified.

During the hours just after midnight of Aug. 12, the now-major hurricane crossed the western part of Cuba just west of Havana. Wind gusts at Havana were measured at 121 mph.

On Friday the 13th, Charley was on a steady course toward the west coast of Florida, with an expected landfall at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Toward midday the almost-straight-north-course began to lean slightly east of due north. During this time period the hurricane began to rapidly intensify into a Category 4. The eye shrank from 12 miles across to 5 miles across at landfall.

After making landfall in the Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte area, the hurricane moved rapidly across the state and emerged near Daytona Beach. A weakened Hurricane Charley rapidly moved up the Atlantic seaboard and gradually lost its tropical characteristics.

Hurricane Charley was the only one of the four storms that caused the evacuation of Anna Maria Island. Fortunately, the Island received little wind or rain from the strong storm, although power outages lasted several days in some locations.

Hurricane Frances

Hurricane Frances was a classic Cape Verde hurricane. The disturbance, which developed into Frances, can be traced back to the west coast of Africa around Aug. 21. Early on the 25 th , the system organized into a tropical depression. During the next 36 hours, Frances developed rapidly into a hurricane. The next two days the hurricane continued to steadily intensify to major hurricane status.

Frances became a Category 4 hurricane on Aug. 31. The hurricane reached its peak strength at a point of about 150 miles north of the western end of Puerto Rico on Sept. 1.

As Frances moved into the central Bahamas, the upper level anticyclone, which was well established over the hurricane during the previous few days, began to de-couple from the hurricane and was re-positioned just to the east of the storm and caused a southerly shear over the hurricane as it approached the western Bahamas and Florida. This re-arrangement of the systems caused a once Category 4 hurricane to weaken to a Category 2 hurricane.

Hurricane Frances was a slow-mover of a storm, just the opposite of Charley. It took nearly two days for the storm to move from just offshore the east coast of Florida to a point near Tampa.

After crossing the central part of Florida, Hurricane Frances briefly moved into the extreme northeastern Gulf as a tropical storm, then turned north and crossed the coast just south and east of Tallahassee.

The Island suffered some roof damage and beach erosion from Frances and ruined Labor Day plans for all.

Hurricane Ivan

Hurricane Ivan was the most intense and destructive hurricane of 2004. The precursor to Hurricane Ivan moved off the west coast of Africa during the closing days of August. During the afternoon of Sept. 2, the disturbance was classified as a tropical depression. The system steadily developed and increased in strength to hurricane status on Sept. 5. During the next 12 hours it rapidly increased to a Category 3 hurricane.

Ivan is probably the first storm in recorded history to reach major hurricane intensity as far south as it did.

During the next two days, the hurricane fluctuated in intensity between Category 2 and 4. On Sept. 7, Hurricane Ivan crossed the island of Granada in the southern Windward Islands as an intensifying Category 3 hurricane. The hurricane moved over the island with winds of 120 mph with gusts over 150 mph. Once Ivan entered the southeast Caribbean, the storm intensified steadily to Category 5 during the early morning hours of Sept. 9. The hurricane continued on what appeared to be a direct impact on Jamaica. Just in the nick of time - or what could be called a miracle for Jamaica - the track of the storm made a dramatic change away from the island.

During the period of Sept. 11-12, the hurricane reached its peak strength with winds of 165 mph, making it the strongest hurricane since Mitch in 1998 in the same region with a pressure of 905 mb.

On Sept. 12, the center of this Category 5 hurricane passed within 30 miles of Grand Cayman Island. The hurricane continued to move slowly northwest toward the western tip of Cuba, and the eastern eye wall moved across the western tip of the island Sept. 13. Once entering the southeast Gulf of Mexico the hurricane began to decrease somewhat in strength at the same time it began tracking almost straight north. On Sept. 16, the storm made landfall at the Florida-Alabama border. The hurricane continued north, causing extensive damage across eastern Alabama. During the next few days, the remnants of Ivan became a big rain and flood event over the eastern portion of the United States.

Hurricane Jeanne

As Category 5 Hurricane Ivan was on a destructive rampage near western Cuba, an area of disturbed weather began to organize just to the east of the Leeward Islands. On the afternoon of Sept. 13, satellite and surface reports from the Leeward Islands indicated a closed low pressure system had developed. The next day, the depression intensified into Tropical Storm Jeanne. Jeanne moved directly across Puerto Rico Sept. 15 as a strong tropical storm with hurricane-intensity wind gusts. Early on Sept. 16, Jeanne was briefly upgraded to hurricane status. As the small hurricane turned to a more westward course, it began to encounter the high mountains of Hispanola and dramatically weakened to a depression.

During the next few days, the redeveloping tropical storm moved slowly in a northerly direction in response to a digging mid-latitude trough over the eastern U.S. As this trough moved slowly eastward it appeared it would take Jeanne out to the east or northeast away from land. Because of the slow movement of Jeanne and the failure of the trough to dig any farther south, the hurricane began a slow anticyclonic loop that allowed the high pressure ridge behind the trough time to build over the north side of the hurricane and steer it westward toward the northern Bahamas and the east coast of Florida.

During the time the hurricane was on its westward heading, Jeanne intensified into a major Category 3 hurricane. The hurricane's eye made landfall near the Stuart/Fort Pierce area just before midnight on Sept. 25th, with winds to 115 mph. Jeanne's path followed the same general course as Frances six weeks earlier, but unlike Frances, Jeanne's destructive winds and heaviest rains were more concentrated closer to the center of the storm.

The hurricane continued toward Tampa, then turned north just inside the Gulf coastline toward Georgia, where it eventually dissipated.

Sandscript factoid

A 52-foot wave produced by Hurricane Ivan in the Gulf of Mexico was the highest wave ever reported in a hurricane, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

A buoy located about 75 miles south of Dauphin Island, Ala., measured the huge roller Sept. 15.

However, that monster wave was probably not the biggest that Ivan spawned. The agency's buoys determine wave heights based on the average of the highest third of the waves sampled during a 20-minute period. The true highest wave is generally 50- to 80-percent greater than the documented wave.

Ivan's Wave exceeds those measured at 44 feet during Hurricane Camille in 1969, and is only slightly less than the biggest wave ever recorded, a 55-footer in the Pacific Ocean just south of the Aleutian Islands in 1991.

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