WunderBlog Archive » Category 6™

Category 6 has moved! See the latest from Dr. Jeff Masters and Bob Henson here.

The Atlantic is quiet; remembering Hurricane Hugo 20 years later

By: Dr. Jeff Masters, 2:30 PM GMT on September 14, 2009

Considering that the third week of September is usually one of the busiest weeks for Atlantic hurricanes, the tropical Atlantic is very quiet today. The remains of Hurricane Fred continue to generate sporadic bursts of heavy thunderstorm activity over the middle Atlantic Ocean. Dry air and prohibitively high wind shear of 40 knots today will continue to prevent regeneration, and none of our reliable models are calling for Fred to regenerate this week.

Satellite imagery and this morning's QuikSCAT pass show a small circulation associated with a tropical wave about 100 miles south of the Cape Verdes Islands, just off the coast of Africa. The wave has only a small amount of heavy thunderstorms, on the west side of the circulation, and QuikSCAT showed only 20 mph winds in the region. None of the models develop this wave, and it is probably too small to develop into a tropical depression. Still, it is worth keeping an eye on.

Tropical storm development is possible this week along a frontal zone stretching from Florida to the waters between the Bahamas and North Carolina. However, wind shear will be relatively high in this region, and anything that develops may end up being extratropical in nature, and would likely move northeastward out to sea.

The GFS model is predicting development of a new tropical wave coming off the coast of Africa late this week.

Figure 1. The remains of Hurricane Fred (left) appears as a swirl of low-level clouds with a clump of heavy thunderstorm activity on the north side. A small tropical wave is near the Cape Verdes Islands, off the coast of Africa. This wave is probably too small to develop.

Twenty years ago on this date
On September 14, 1989, I arose at dawn to prepare for my flight to Barbados to meet Hurricane Hugo. First order of business was to flick on my weather radio and check out the latest advisory for the hurricane. Category 1, 90 mph winds, headed west-northwest at 15 mph. As expected. Next order of business, call in to the hurricane hunter hotline and listen to the mission plan. "We are planning a two-plane deployment to Barbados today, departing at twelve hundred hours. Crew assignments are as follows..." On schedule, and no crew changes. I finished packing my bag and headed to Miami International Airport to fly out to meet Hurricane Hugo.

Figure 2. GOES visible satellite image of Hurricane Hugo taken on September 14, 1989. Image credit: Google Earth rendition of the NOAA HURSAT data base.

As our big P-3 Orion hurricane hunter plane droned over the Caribbean towards Barbados, we didn't have any means to check on what the hurricane was doing. I could only guess how strong a hurricane might greet us when we landed. We landed uneventfully at Barbados' Grantley Adams International Airport shortly after dark, and disembarked from the aircraft. As we walked across the tarmac towards the terminal, we were suddenly confronted by the flashes of cameras as a group of reporters documented the arrival of the "daredevil" Hurricane Hunters. We'd never had a welcoming committee at one of our landings before, and all smiled and laughed at our sudden fame. It seems Hurricane Hugo was big news in the Caribbean. I quickly found out why, when I got to the weather briefing room at the terminal. Hugo had rapidly intensified during the day, and was now a major Category 3 hurricane with 115 mph winds. With Hugo still over a day from the islands, the hurricane had plenty of time to intensify further. Barbados was well south of the expected path of the hurricane, and was thus a safe base of operations, but the mood on the island was frightened and electric. It had been nine years since the last major hurricane smashed through the Lesser Antilles Islands--Hurricane Allen of 1980. The roll call of the most notorious hurricanes to devastate the islands of the Lesser Antilles--Allen of 1980, David of 1979, Inez of 1966, Cleo of 1964, Flora of 1963, and Donna of 1960--would soon be adding a new name.

Figure 3. The front page story of the September 15, 1989 issue of the Barbados Weekend Nation newspaper featured our arrival the night of September 14, 1989, at Barbados' Grantley Adams International Airport. From left to right: Alan Goldstein (electronic engineer), Dave Turner (pilot), Gerry McKim (pilot, partially hidden), Jim Roles (electronic engineer), Neal Rain (electronic engineer), Jeff Masters (flight meteorologist), Terry Schricker (electronic engineer), Sean White (Navigator), Lowell Genzlinger (pilot), Jack Parrish (flight meteorologist).

The entire Caribbean was in an uproar. Thousands of boats across the Caribbean set sail to seek safe harbor. Tourists besieged besieged airports, seeking to escape the hurricane. Stores throughout the Caribbean islands along Hugo's projected path reported shelves stripped of provisions as residents prepared for the Caribbean's most deadly fury--a fully mature Cape Verdes hurricane. And tomorrow, my plane with fourteen Hurricane Hunters and one reporter would be the first humans to encounter Hugo.

Tomorrow's post
By now, many of you have read my story of my flight into Hurricane Hugo on September 15, 1989. Tomorrow, I'll present the story of the flight as seen through the eyes of reporter Janice Griffith of the Barbados Sun.

Jeff Masters


The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.