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 , 1:20 AM GMT on August 25, 2012
Throughout hurricane history, numerous tropical storms and hurricanes have battered themselves against Hispaniola and Cuba. Some have been destroyed; others have survived and gone on to wreak additional havoc. Cuba's most formidable barrier to hurricanes is the one Isaac will be running into--the eastern portion of the island, where mountains up to 6,000 feet high rear up out of the sea. I present here a history of five storms that crossed portions of both Hispaniola and Cuba, similar to Isaac's track. These five storms strengthened by 5 - 20 mph in their first 24 hours after coming off the coast of Cuba, and one went on to become the deadliest disaster in American history--the Great Galveston Hurricane.
Tropical Storm Fay of 2008. This storm was so unpredictable, I nicknamed it "The Joker." Fay got disrupted by passage over Haiti and Eastern Cuba, then slowly intensified to a 50 mph tropical storm as it tracked just south of Cuba. After crossing Central Cuba, Fay intensified from 50 mph to 65 mph in 36 hours over the Florida Straits, before making landfall in southwest Florida. Fay actually strengthened another 5 mph to a 70 mph tropical storm while its center was over land near the western end of Lake Okeechobee.
Figure 1. Tropical Storm Fay approaching Florida. Satellite: Aqua at 6:50 PM GMT on August 18, 2008
Hurricane Ernesto of 2006. Ernesto was a hurricane for the briefest of time, just six hours, before it encountered the rugged mountains on the southwest Peninsula of Haiti and Eastern Cuba, which weakened it to a 40 mph tropical storm. After popping off the north coast of Cuba, Ernest had 24 hours over the warm waters of the Florida Straits before making landfall on the southern tip of Florida, but Ernesto was only able to strengthen by 5 mph to 45 mph.
Figure 2. Hurricane Ernesto (05L) over Hispaniola. Satellite: Terra at 3:50 PM GMT on August 27, 2006
Hurricane Georges of 1998. This nasty Cape Verde hurricane cut a swath of destruction across the Caribbean and in the U.S., killing 602 people, mostly in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Passage over Hispaniola weakened Georges from a Category 3 storm to a Category 1, and Georges was able to maintain Category 1 status for over a day while traversing the eastern half of Cuba. After the center popped off the coast, Georges had 18 hours over water before it hit Key West, and the hurricane intensified from 85 mph winds to 105 mph winds during that time.
Figure 3. Inside the eye of Hurricane Georges, as seen from a NOAA WP-3D research aircraft on 19 September 1998.
Hurricane Two of 1928. This storm became a Category 1 hurricane with 90 mph winds before reaching Haiti, the got disrupted by close passage to Haiti's southwest peninsula, and Eastern Cuba. After the storm crossed Cuba, it strengthened from 60 mph to 70 mph in the Florida Straits, before close passage by the landmass of South Florida weakened it back to a 60 mph tropical storm again. It eventually made landfall in the panhandle of Florida as a 45 mph tropical storm.
Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900. This deadliest hurricane in American history killed an estimated 8,000 - 12,000 people in Galveston, Texas when it hit as a Category 4 storm with 145 mph winds on September 8, 1900. On its way to Galveston, the storm crossed both Hispaniola and the greater part of the length of Cuba as a tropical storm with 40 - 50 mph winds. When the storm popped out into the Florida Straits, it intensified from a minimum strength 40 mph tropical storm to a 145 mph Category 4 monster in two-and-a-half days. There's a very good chance the hurricane passed over a warm core Gulf eddy on its way to Galveston, allowing explosive deepening to occur. That situation does not exist in the Gulf at present for Isaac.
Figure 4. Aftermath of the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900 on Galveston Island.
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