Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.
By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 12:38 AM GMT on November 26, 2008
The hurricane season of 2008 draws to a close on Sunday, but leaves behind an indelible mark in history and in the lives of the millions of people it affected. After two years of relative tranquility, the active hurricane period that began in 1995 returned in full force this year, living up to pre-season predictions. It was a top ten hurricane season when considering the total number of named storms and major hurricanes, and ranked 24th using a better measure of total seasonal activity, the Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE). Hurricane records in the Atlantic go back to 1851. An ACE index of 95-100 is average, so this year's ACE of 141 puts this season at about 45% more active than average. The remainder of this post will list some notable statistics, records, and events that occurred during the hurricane season of 2008. It is by no means an exhaustive list, and I could have added much more.
First, here's how this season measured up to other seasons:
6th most named storms (16; the record is 28 in 2005)
25th most hurricanes (8; the record is 15 in 2005)
9th most major hurricanes (5; the record is 8 in 1950)
24th highest ACE index (141; the record is 250 in 2005)
13th highest Named Storm Days (84.75; record is 136 in 1933)
40th highest Hurricane Days (29.5; the record is 62.5 in 1995)
28th highest Major Hurricane Days (8.5; the record is 24.5 in 1961)
Notable records for 2008
-Fourth costliest hurricane season on record ($21 billion dollars in U.S. damage, according to ISO's Property Claim Services)
-First time major hurricanes have been observed in five separate months (Bertha, Gustav, Ike, Omar, Paloma occurred in July, August, September, October, and November, respectively)
-First time six consecutive storms made U.S. landfall (Dolly, Edouard, Fay, Gustav, Hanna, and Ike).
-First time three major hurricanes have hit Cuba (Gustav, Ike, Paloma)
-Costliest hurricane in Texas history (Ike, $16.2 billion)
-Second deadliest U.S. hurricane since 1972, and 26th deadliest in history (Ike, with 82 dead)
-Highest wind gust ever measured in a hurricane over land (Gustav, 212 mph in Pinar del Rio, Cuba)
-First storm ever to make four landfalls in one state (Fay, in Florida)
-Second strongest November hurricane (Paloma, 145 mph winds)
-Smallest tropical cyclone on record (Marco)
-Longest-lived July hurricane on record, longest-lived hurricane so early in the season, longest-lived tropical storm in July and so early in the season (Bertha, which was a hurricane 7.75 days, eclipsing the previous record of 7 days held by Hurricane Emily of 2005. Bertha was at tropical storm strength for 17.25 days).
-Farthest east forming tropical storm and hurricane for so early in the season (Bertha)
Nowhere was the hurricane season of 2008 more terrible than in Haiti. Four storms--Fay, Gustav, Hanna, and Ike--dumped heavy rains on the impoverished nation. The rugged hillsides, stripped bare of 98% of their forest cover thanks to deforestation, let flood waters rampage into large areas of the country. Particularly hard-hit was Gonaives, the fourth largest city. According to reliefweb.org, Haiti suffered 793 killed, with 310 missing and another 593 injured. The hurricanes destroyed 22,702 homes and damaged another 84,625. About 800,000 people were affected--8% of Haiti's total population. The flood wiped out much of Haiti's crops, and aid workers are concerned that spiraling food costs will add to the toll of 26 children that died of malnutrition in recent weeks. For those looking to help out, I recommend an end-of the-year donation to the Lambi Fund of Haiti. I've been impressed with their efforts over the years to effect change at a grass-roots level, with an emphasis on reforestation efforts.
Three major hurricanes hit Cuba, the first time on record that has happened. Hurricanes Gustav, Ike, and Paloma killed eight people on the island, and caused a combined $10 billion in damage. Some 4.4 million people had to be evacuated for the three hurricanes, 2.8 million of these because of Ike. Ike and Gustav destroyed 63,000 homes and damaged 440,000 more, and every province of Cuba reported hurricane damage. According to the official Granma newspaper, "the economic, social, and housing situation of the country has been devastated as never before in its history" due to Gustav and Ike.
Figure 1. Hurricane Gustav at 12:05 pm EDT 8/30/2008, as viewed by NASA's Terra satellite. At the time, Gustav was a Category 4 hurricane with 150 mph winds. Image credit: NASA.
Texas suffers Ike's massive storm surge
Hurricane Ike, though just a Category 2 hurricane at landfall, brought Texas' second highest storm surge on record--17.48 feet to inland Chambers County. Ike's highest surge at the coast was 16.8 feet on the west side of Galveston Bay at the town of Bayside Terrace (Figure 2). The highest high water mark from Ike was an towering 21.2 feet in Texas City. This high water mark was due to the combined action of the surge plus waves on top. The record highest storm surge for a Texas hurricane still belongs to Category 4 Hurricane Carla of 1961, with 22.8 feet measured at Port Lavaca. It is likely that the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900 and another Category 4 Galveston hurricane in 1915 had higher storm surges in Galveston Bay than Hurricane Ike did.
Figure 2. High still water marks (in feet) from Hurricane Ike in Harris County. Image credit: FEMA and National Weather Service.
Ike makes a direct hit on the Turks and Caicos Islands
Hurricane Ike pounded the Turks and Caicos Islands as a Category 4 hurricane with 135 mph winds. Ike made direct hits on Grand Turk Island, South Caicos Island, and Great Inagua Island. About 95% of all buildings on these islands were damaged or destroyed, and Ike was the strongest hurricane on record in this region. The only other major hurricane to hit Great Inagua Island was a 1899 Category 3 storm. Grand Turk and South Caicos Island have had major hurricane strikes in 1893, 1866, and 1945.
Figure 3. Microwave image of Hurricane Ike as it made landfall on Great Inagua Island at 7:45 am EDT 09/07/2008. The storm had formed concentric eyewalls at the time. Image credit: Navy Research Lab, Monterey.
New Orleans is battered by Gustav, but the levees hold
Hurricane Gustav ripped into Louisiana just west of New Orleans on September 1 as a strong Category 2 hurricane with 110 mph winds. Gustav killed 43 people in the U.S. and did $3.8 billion in damage, making it the 20th costliest hurricane on record in the U.S. Storm surge heights up to 12.5 feet were recorded in the New Orleans area. Surge heights were similar to, and in some cases higher, than those measured during Hurricane Katrina along the New Orleans levee system. Thankfully, the levee system withstood Gustav's test.
Fay eases drought conditions in Florida and the Southeast U.S.
A two-year drought in Central Florida that brought Lake Okeechobee to critically low water levels was effectively ended by Tropical Storm Fay in August. Fay's rains of 10-15 inches increased the level of Lake Okeechobee from 11 feet to 15 feet, putting it near average levels. Fay also dropped up to ten inches of rain across parched regions of the Southeast U.S., reducing their drought level from exceptional to extreme (Figure 4). Fay also killed eleven people in the U.S. and did approximately $180 million in damage.
Figure 4. Total rainfall from Tropical Storm Fay over the U.S. Image credit: NOAA.
Paloma ravages Cayman Brac Island
Paloma roared through the Cayman Islands as a Category 4 hurricane with 140 mph winds, brushing Grand Cayman Island, but pounding the "Sister Islands" to the northeast--Little Cayman and Cayman Brac--with its northern eyewall. The hardest-hit Cayman island was Cayman Brac, population 2,000. Damage on Cayman Brac was very heavy, with over 90% of all the buildings damaged. Paloma was the worst hurricane to hit the island since the deadly 1932 hurricane that flattened Cayman Brac, killing 69 people. Ironically, both hurricanes occurred on November 8. Due to the angle Paloma hit the island at, only an 8-foot storm surge was repported. The 1932 hurricane reputedly carried a 24-foot storm surge.
Figure 5. Damage on Cayman Brac from Hurricane Paloma. Image credit: Mangroveman.
The Portlight Charity mobilizes to help Gulf Coast hurricane victims
A group of Weather Underground bloggers mobilized to bring aid to the underserved and disabled victims of the Hurricane Ike disaster under the banner of the Portlight.org charity. It was great to see our community come together to help out those devastated by one of the most damaging hurricanes of all time. The emergence of Portlight from our community of Internet weather enthusiasts is truly a unique and remarkable event. I look forward to helping Portlight make a difference in many hurricane seasons to come, and hope you will consider making a year-end donation to help out.
The travel weather looks good for the U.S. for this holiday weekend, and I'll be joining the traffic chaos Wednesday morning. I'm headed to Puerto Rico's Vieques Island with my family, and will be back to blogging on December 3. Have a great holiday, everyone!
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