January 21st, 2009

Synopses of Significant Tropical Cyclones in 2008

Posted at 1:00 AM ET

Dr. Rebecca Cheetham, European Model Development Team, Instrat®
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Of the 16 named storms in 2008, eight went on to make landfall in the United States and Caribbean and cause significant levels of damage (see map).

Hurricane Dolly

Hurricane Dolly originated from a strong tropical wave in the Western Caribbean on July 20, 2008. In the early part of its lifecycle, Dolly tracked northwest, brushing the northern tip of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula as a tropical storm before entering the Gulf of Mexico. Dolly intensified into a Category 1 hurricane on July 22 and further intensified into a Category 2 hurricane with sustained winds of around 100 mph (160 kmph) just before making U.S. landfall on South Padre Island, Texas on July 23, 2008. The system weakened upon landfall and was downgraded to a tropical storm early on July 24. It dissipated as a tropical depression later the same day.

Dolly’s initial landfall on the Yucatan Peninsula caused only minor damage and disruption. However, more severe damage was reported in the United States when Dolly made landfall in a sparsely populated area on South Padre Island. Here, there was major roof damage to hotels and homes and significant flooding across the area. Dolly also caused major damage in Hidalgo County, TX, where residents’ homes remained underwater a week after the storm came ashore. In all, Dolly dropped around 12 inches (300 millimeters) of rain over Texas and caused a coastal storm surge of up to 6 feet (1.8 meters). Offshore damage to oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico was minimal.

Dolly was responsible for 21 fatalities, according to reports. Latest estimates of monetary loss state that Dolly caused around USD525 million in insured onshore losses.1

Modeling Company Loss Estimates from Hurricane Dolly

The modeled loss estimates for Hurricane Dolly from the three major modeling companies (AIR, EQECAT, and RMS) are summarized below. Note that losses quoted for RMS and AIR represent U.S. losses only.

Tropical Torm Edouard

Edouard formed from an area of low pressure in the Gulf of Mexico on August 3 and intensified into a tropical storm later that day. As Edouard neared the Texas coastline, the system underwent some intensification, making landfall between High Island and Sabine Pass on August 5 with sustained wind speeds of 65 mph (100 kmph). Before Edouard made landfall, there was a state-wide emergency declaration and an evacuation order for people in flood-prone areas. However, Edouard caused minimal damage and was quickly downgraded to a tropical depression after making landfall.

Tropical Storm Fay

Fay formed from an area of low pressure in the Mona Passage on August 15. After formation, Fay moved westwards across Hispaniola and by August 18 had curved towards the north, crossing Cuba and moving into the Florida Straits. After modest intensification, Fay made its first landfall with sustained winds of 57 mph (93 kmph) near Key West, Florida (FL) as a tropical storm late on August 18. After crossing the Florida Keys, Fay made a second landfall early on August 19 at Cape Romano, FL, as a slightly weaker tropical storm with sustained winds of 57 mph (93 kmph). Fay moved northeastward across the Florida peninsula and by August 20 had reentered the sea, after which it tracked northward along the east coast of Florida. On August 21, Fay veered west to make a third landfall as a tropical storm with sustained winds of 57 mph (93 kmph) near Flagler Beach, Florida. Fay then drifted slowly westward across Florida and emerged over the extreme northern portion of the Gulf of Mexico on August 23. Fay strengthened slightly over the Gulf before making its fourth and final landfall near Carrabelle, FL as a tropical storm later on August 23. The system was downgraded to a tropical depression as it drifted slowly westward across northern Florida early on August 24.

Fay’s slow forward speed brought heavy and persistent rainfall to large parts of Florida as the storm crossed the Florida panhandle. Damage included severe flooding, power outages to many homes and businesses, and the destruction of several buildings due to tornadoes that were spawned by the storm. Recent estimates state that Fay was directly responsible for 25 fatalities and present estimates of insured loss stand at USD245 million.2,3 Fay distinguished itself as the first system in U.S. history to make four landfalls in the same state, breaking the record of three landfalls set by Hurricane Gordon in Florida in 1994.2

Hurricane Gustav

Hurricane Gustav formed from an area of low pressure in the central Caribbean on August 25 and became a tropical storm later that day. Gustav tracked northwest and intensified into a hurricane early on August 26 while tracking towards southern Haiti. Gustav made landfall in southern Haiti as a Category 1 hurricane, weakening to a tropical storm while traversing the mountains to the south of the island. On entering the western Caribbean, Gustav intensified into a strong tropical storm before making landfall in southern Jamaica on August 28. Gustav tracked west across the island, taking its path across the capital, Kingston. On leaving Jamaica, Gustav strengthened rapidly to reach hurricane status on August 29. By August 30, Gustav had become a major Category 4 hurricane and hit the western tip of Cuba with 150 mph (240 kmph) sustained winds later the same day. The interaction with land weakened Gustav and the storm entered the Gulf of Mexico on August 31 as a Category 3 hurricane. Conditions prevented Gustav from strengthening as it crossed the Gulf of Mexico, and the system actually weakened to a Category 2 hurricane before making landfall on the U.S. coastline near Cocodrie, Louisiana on September 1 with sustained winds of 110 mph (175 kmph). Gustav weakened rapidly upon landfall and was downgraded to a tropical storm early on September 2 and to a tropical depression later that day.

Gustav caused considerable amounts of damage to the Caribbean islands of Haiti, Jamaica, and Cuba. In Haiti, the storm triggered flooding and landslides that destroyed houses and claimed many lives. In Jamaica, heavy rain and strong winds caused heavy damage to houses, cut power, and damaged infrastructure. Many people were forced to evacuate the capital, Kingston, due to flooding. In Cuba, there was extensive flooding and severe damage to houses and infrastructure. Hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated to safety in the province where Gustav made landfall.

In the United States, Gustav battered the Gulf Coast with torrential rain and high winds. Over a million homes lost power in Louisiana, where there was also severe damage to houses. Gustav caused widespread flooding and the destruction of around 58 percent of Louisiana’s cotton harvest. New Orleans was on the boundary of hurricane-force winds and although there was some damage to infrastructure, the city’s flood levees did not breach as they did after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Offshore, oil companies in the Gulf of Mexico evacuated workers before the arrival of Gustav and nearly all offshore oil production was shut down. Gustav caused little damage to oil production facilities in the Gulf, probably owing to weakening of the system as it approached the coast.

According to recent estimates, approximately 138 fatalities have been attributed to Gustav, of which around 43 occurred in the United States. Recent onshore insured loss estimates state that around USD 2.15 billion can be attributed to Gustav in the United States.4 Swiss Re, meanwhile, estimates that the total insured loss (including onshore and offshore U.S. and Caribbean losses) from Gustav could amount to a total of USD4 billion.5

Modeling Company Loss Estimates from Hurricane Gustav

The modelled loss estimates for Hurricane Gustav from AIR, EQECAT, and RMS are summarized below.

Hurricane Hanna

Hanna was formed from a tropical wave on August 28 and became a tropical storm later that day while moving northwest across the Atlantic. The system strengthened to become a hurricane on September 1, but weakened back to a tropical storm on September 2 while turning in a counterclockwise loop near the Turks and Caicos Islands. During this time, Hanna brought huge amounts of rainfall to Haiti, with floodwaters causing considerable amounts of devastation.

A ridge of high pressure building north of Hanna caused the system to track towards the northwest, and after some intensification, Hanna made landfall as a tropical storm with sustained winds of around 60 mph (95 kmph) early on September 6 near the border between North and South Carolina. With this landfall, Hanna caused power outages and isolated flooding, but little material damage. Most areas along Hanna’s path through the northern Mid-Atlantic States suffered some flooding along with minor damage to homes and infrastructure.

After following a track towards the north and then northeast along the mid-Atlantic coast, Hanna completed extra-tropical transition as it moved through New England on September 7.

Recent estimates state that Hanna was responsible for 536 deaths, of which 529 occurred on Haiti.6 Recent insured loss estimates for the United States stand at USD80 million.7

Hurricane Ike

Ike formed from a tropical wave in the eastern tropical Atlantic on September 1 and was upgraded to a tropical storm later that day while travelling westward. Ike intensified rapidly on September 3 and, after classification as a hurricane later that day, the system reached Category 4 status on September 4. Ike then tracked on a west-southwest course across the central Atlantic, hitting the Turks and Caicos Islands, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic as a Category 4 hurricane, before making landfall on Cuba’s eastern province of Holguin as a Category 3 hurricane with sustained winds of up to 125 mph (205 kmph) on September 8.

Ike caused huge destruction during its course through the Caribbean. The low-lying Turks and Caicos Islands suffered massive storm surges that, in combination with Ike’s powerful winds, destroyed or severely damaged the majority of homes across the region. Infrastructure across the islands was also damaged severely, and power to many residents was cut for weeks. In Haiti, Ike’s outer rain bands caused yet more flooding, adding to the humanitarian crisis that had been left in the wake of the two preceding tropical cyclones - Gustav and Hanna. In Cuba, Ike moved across the country, battering northern and eastern regions with strong winds, torrential rain, and a storm surge of up to 50 feet (15 meters). Thousands of homes across Cuba were destroyed or damaged as were many of the island’s agricultural crops. Ike hit Cuba’s capital, Havana, but damage here was less extensive than in other parts of the country.

Ike weakened to a Category 1 hurricane before leaving western Cuba on 9 September. Ike then intensified in the Gulf of Mexico as it tracked northwest towards Texas, reaching Category 2 hurricane status on September 10. At this stage, Ike was notable not for its intensity, but for its large size, and by September 11, Ike’s sustained hurricane force winds extended out to at least 100 miles (160 km) in several of its quadrants. The size of the system prevented rapid intensification across the Gulf of Mexico, and Ike finally made landfall on the U.S. Gulf Coast near Galveston Island, Texas (TX) as a high Category 2 hurricane on September 13. Ike hit Galveston Island with winds of up to 110 mph (177 kmph) and an accompanying storm surge of around 12 feet to 15 feet (4 meters to 5 metres). On making landfall, Ike weakened rapidly and was first downgraded to a tropical storm later on September 13 and then to a tropical depression by September 14.

Ike’s hurricane-force winds extended around 125 miles (200 km) from the storm’s eye at landfall, and this was the biggest contributing factor to the ensuing onshore damage. Upon landfall, the accompanying storm surge swamped much of the U.S. Gulf Coast, causing significant damage to coastal areas and inland flooding. Although Ike was not as powerful as had been feared before making landfall, its large size caused storm surge, wind damage and power outages across wide areas of Texas and Louisiana.

In Galveston, where Ike came ashore, around 75 percent of homes sustained damage from a combination of Ike’s powerful winds, rain and storm surge. A month after Ike first hit, around 10,000 households in Galveston remained without power and around 400 people were still living in tent shelters.

Ike’s powerful winds and flooding also cut power to over 4 million people in the Houston area, which sustained relatively little damage in comparison to communities around Galveston Island. Three days after making landfall, around 2 million residents in the city of Houston remained without power and there was extensive damage as a result of the powerful winds to high-rise buildings in the city, many of which sustained substantial window damage. A month after Ike made landfall, 10,000 homes were estimated to have been damaged in the city of Houston. Counties in neighbouring Louisiana also suffered from storm surge related flooding. Days after landfall, heavy rain associated with the passing remnants of Ike caused extensive flooding and infrastructure damage further inland in the states of Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana. Ohio and Kentucky experienced hurricane force winds, and tornadoes damaged several buildings in Arkansas.

Before landfall, Ike’s path through major oil and gas producing facilities in the Gulf of Mexico prompted the closure of 13 of Houston’s 17 oil refineries (representing a fifth of U.S. refining capacity). According to recent information from the U.S. Minerals Management Service (MMS),8 approximately 1,450 of the 3,800 oil and gas production platforms in the Gulf of Mexico were exposed to hurricane conditions during the passage of Ike. Of these, 54 have been confirmed as destroyed. Estimates from the MMS state that the 54 destroyed platforms produced a total of 13,300 barrels of oil per day and 90 million cubic feet of gas per day.

Recent estimates state that Ike caused 143 deaths in the Caribbean and the United States. The storm is estimated to have caused losses of around USD4 billion in Cuba.9 Latest estimates of insured loss from ISO PCS suggest that Ike caused a total of USD10.7 billion onshore damage in the United States, making Ike the fourth most destructive tropical cyclone in U.S. history, after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and Hurricane Wilma in 2005.10,11 Recent estimates from Swiss Re suggest that Ike could have caused a total of USD20 billion in insured damage (this figure includes insured onshore and offshore losses from Ike in both the Caribbean and the U.S.).12

Modeling Company Loss Estimates from Hurricane Ike

The modeled loss estimates for Hurricane Ike from AIR, EQECAT, and RMS are summarized below.

Hurricane Omar

Hurricane Omar was formed from an area of low pressure in the eastern Caribbean on October 13. Omar became a tropical storm on October 14 and strengthened into a hurricane later the same day while over the warm deep waters of the Caribbean Sea. By October 16, Omar rapidly intensified into a major Category 3 hurricane with maximum winds speeds of 125 mph (205 kmph) while battering the Leeward Islands. After a period of rapid weakening, Omar was downgraded to a tropical storm on October 17 while accelerating to the northeast. After intensifying briefly back into a hurricane on that same day, cooler sea surface temperatures caused Omar to lose strength and the system was downgraded into a remnant low on October 18. Omar brought severe weather to the northeastern Caribbean, where it passed as a Category 3 hurricane. Omar caused moderate damage to the Lesser Antilles and led to one indirect fatality.13

Hurricane Paloma

Paloma formed from an area of low pressure in the southwestern Caribbean Sea on November 5. Paloma strengthened rapidly, becoming a tropical storm on November 6 and a hurricane early on November 7 while moving slowly northward. Paloma became a major hurricane later that day and battered the Cayman Islands while turning to the northeast. The system became a Category 4 hurricane while approaching Cuba, but after interaction with dry air and the landmass of Cuba, the storm weakened rapidly. Paloma became a tropical storm on November 9 and was downgraded to a tropical depression later that day.

Paloma caused considerable damage on the Cayman Islands and Cuba, where one fatality occurred.14

In the Cayman Islands, the smaller islands of Cayman Brac and Little Cayman bore the brunt of Paloma’s hurricane-force winds and heavy rain. Most of the two island’s 2,000 residents were evacuated or moved to shelters before the storm’s arrival. Property damage occurred on both islands as a result of wind damage and storm surge flooding. Power supplies were cut on both Little Cayman and Grand Cayman, but no deaths were attributed to the storm on the islands.

In Cuba, Paloma made landfall near Santa Crux del Sur on November 9 as Category 3 hurricane with sustained winds of around 120 mph (195 kmph). More than 500,000 people were evacuated from their homes in southern provinces of the island. In southern Cuba, thousands of homes were destroyed by the storm’s powerful winds and a 10-foot (3 metre) storm surge that sent waves almost a mile (1.5 km) inland.

Additional Contributor:

Footnotes:

  1. Insurance Services Office, Property Claim Services, Catastrophe Bulletins and Estimates
  2. Summary of 2008 Atlantic Tropical Cyclone Activity and Verification of Author’s Seasonal and Monthly Forecasts. Klotzbach, P.J. and Gray, W.M., 2008.
  3. Insurance Services Office, Property Claim Services, Catastrophe Bulletins and Estimates
  4. Ibid.
  5. Swiss Re
  6. Summary of 2008 Atlantic Tropical Cyclone Activity and Verification of Author’s Seasonal and Monthly Forecasts. Klotzbach, P.J. and Gray, W.M., 2008.
  7. Insurance Services Office, Property Claim Services, Catastrophe Bulletins and Estimates
  8. U.S. Minerals Management Service
  9. Summary of 2008 Atlantic Tropical Cyclone Activity and Verification of Author’s Seasonal and Monthly Forecasts. Klotzbach, P.J. and Gray, W.M., 2008.
  10. Insurance Services Office, Property Claim Services, Catastrophe Bulletins and Estimates
  11. Insurance Information Institute
  12. Swiss Re
  13. Summary of 2008 Atlantic Tropical Cyclone Activity and Verification of Author’s Seasonal and Monthly Forecasts. Klotzbach, P.J. and Gray, W.M., 2008.
  14. Ibid.

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