Tag Archives: 2005 Atlantic Hurricane Season

NINE YEARS AGO – HURRICANE WILMA!

Nine years ago, on this 21 October 2014, a tropical cyclone for the record books, a strong category 4 hurricane WILMA came over the island of Cozumel in its final approach toward the region of Cancun and the northeastern portion of the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico.

Color-enhanced infrared satellite image (NOAA) of 22 October 2005 showing category 4 Hurricane Wilma over the Cancun region in Mexico, before it tracked across the Gulf to hit Florida on 24 October 2005
Color-enhanced infrared satellite image (NOAA) of 22 October 2005 showing category 4 Hurricane Wilma over the Cancun region in Mexico, before it tracked across the Gulf to hit Florida on 24 October 2005

I assessed and documented damage caused by the passage of Wilma over the region, first in a study commissioned by the Quintana Roo State Government completed in early 2006 and then in my book “Paraiso Protegido: Hacia una cultura de mitigacion” (ISBN 978-607-401-556-0) published in February 2012. Additional discussion of the consequences of this hazard event and what we can do to mitigate future hurricane impacts will be the focus of my upcoming book “Hurricane Mitigation for the built environment”, which is scheduled to the see the public light in 2015.

Nine years! This is how long it has been since we have had a land falling hurricane anywhere in Florida. It is a long time and I already detect the influence of ‘hurricane amnesia’ on many fronts, from casual conversations to the actions of public officials regarding given projects that are given green light to proceed without considering potential consequences from future impacts, from recurring hurricanes, or the benefits of incorporating hurricane mitigation measures in the design criteria for such  proposed new projects.

Color-enhanced infrared satellite image (NOAA) of 21 October 2014 showing a storm system over the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico, which is moving in the general direction of Florida, and is expected to disturb our weather over the next few days
Color-enhanced infrared satellite image (NOAA) of 21 October 2014 showing a storm system over the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico, which is moving in the general direction of Florida, and is expected to disturb our weather over the next few days

Today 21 October 2014 the Gulf of Mexico present rather warm waters and a large system of disturbed weather over the Yucatan peninsula exhibiting some cyclonic tendencies, which appears to be moving in the direction of Florida following a path not unlike the one followed by hurricane Wilma in 2005 as it stroke Florida from the west before traversing our peninsula on 24 October 2005. The official cost of damage figure from the impact of Wilma in Florida is $21.0 billion [in 2005 U.S. Dollars], but there are unofficial estimates reaching as high as $29.0 billion. And Wilma was a tropical cyclone that had been almost dismissively categorized as it approached Florida as “just a category 1 storm” by a weather forecaster on a local TV station.

Whether the amount of physical damage caused by Wilma was $29.0 or only $21.0 billion, it would appear to me as an exorbitant amount caused by a minor hurricane. Especially when considering Florida had endured four land-falling storms in 2004, and we had seen the disaster wrought by hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and Mississippi after brushing over South Florida in August 2005. Not to mention the fact that  the media had provided excellent coverage of the monster storm that Wilma became in record time as it barreled from the central Caribbean toward the Yucatan peninsula in late October 2005. We had all seen or read about the damage Wilma caused in Cancun, Cozumel, the Maya Riviera and on the resort island of ‘Isla Mujeres’,  just before it proceeded to  turn in the direction of Florida. It is indeed puzzling to see how quickly we all forgot the hits received in 2004 and the graphic displays of damage and human suffering from Katrina, and from Wilma before it headed our way. Even more puzzling is to hear how many of us were surprised by the amount of damage hurricane Wilma left in South Florida.

Satellite image (NOAA) taken with the RGB filter in the afternoon of  20 October 2005 showing the cell of disturbed weather over the Bay of Campeche, extreme southwestern Gulf of Mexico, as it beginds to track generally east to east-northeast over the Yucatan peninsula and toward Florida
Satellite image (NOAA) taken with the RGB filter in the afternoon of 20 October 2005 showing the cell of disturbed weather over the Bay of Campeche, extreme southwestern Gulf of Mexico, as it begins to track generally east to east-northeast over the Yucatan peninsula and toward Florida

We ignore the signals of Nature at our own risk. Today’s storm system moving over the Yucatan in our general direction may be considered weak or disorganized, but it is large and it will generate storms, and rain, and wind, and surge, and potentially tornadoes as well, and lightning, and flying debris as it comes over our communities. So the potential for damage and for disruption of our daily lives is there. A signal from Nature, a reminder nine years later that we are vulnerable. If there are doubts about this, consider Bermuda and just a couple of days ago they got hit by tropical cyclones FAY and GONZALO in the span of just five days, such a small target in the middle of the Atlantic!

This satellite image (courtesy of the U.S. Navy Research Laboratory) captures the eye of hurricane GONZALO still partially over the northeastern portion of the Main island, in a tremendous feat of marksmanship by Mother Nature!
This satellite image (courtesy of the U.S. Navy Research Laboratory) captures the eye of hurricane GONZALO still partially over the northeastern portion of the Main island, in a tremendous feat of marksmanship by Mother Nature!

Nine years. A long time. But we must remain vigilant at all times. We must be prepared and constantly engage in the practice of mitigation to protect our lives, and property, and our communities and way of life for the next time that will surely come one day.

Nine years, a long time, in which our coastal communities have become even more vulnerable because the increase in population and growth of our urban built environment have placed more people and more property at risk. We are also more vulnerable because the inexorable march of sea level rise has relentlessly increased the potential for damage from the impact of storm surge and breaking waves when that next time comes knocking.

Nine years are a blink of the eye in Mother Nature’s terms. Will it be nine days, nine weeks, next year, or another nine years before our turn comes again to interact with a hurricane? Will we be again surprised by the amount of damage and the power of Nature? Will we be prepared and ready? And, until then will we practice mitigation to ensure that we indeed are prepared and ready? No one can predict when the next one will hit us, but it is up to each and all of us to determine what kind of outcome we will have when that next one  takes place!

Ten and Counting! It is still August

Think back to 1992; it was 17 August when ANDREW the first-named tropical cyclone of the season was generated from a tropical depression, which had activated about half-way through Hurricane Alley some 1,000 km to the southwest of the Cape Verde islands.

Water-vapor satellite image showing tropical storm IRENE impacting the northeastern USA and eastern Canada on 28 August 2011

Flash forward to the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season! It is Sunday 28 August and at the same time that IRENE, the first hurricane of the season now degraded to tropical storm strength, ravages the northeastern USA and eastern Canada with 100+ kph winds and huge amounts of rain, tropical storm JOSE had activated to the south of Bermuda.

Color-enhanced infrared satellite image showing tropical storm IRENE and newly generated tropical storm JOSE on 28 August 2011

Now we are up to 10 named Atlantic tropical cyclones in 2011 and it is still August. The last time there were ten tropical cyclones before the end of August in the Atlantic basin it  was in 2005, when we saw a historical season of 28 named storms and we had to use the letters of the Greek alphabet to name the last six storms. The next previous season we had had ten named tropical cyclones before the end of August in the Atlantic was in 1995 when tropical storm JERRY spawned north of Cuba near the western Bahamas and made landfall in Florida on 23 August. The 1995 Atlantic hurricane season ended with a total of 19 named tropical cyclones; quite an active season, and one which in the consensus of most scientists marked the start of a multi-decadal period of increased tropical cyclone activity in the Atlantic basin that continues today 17 years later. [ if you are interested in seeing complete records of past annual Atlantic hurricane seasons please visit: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/pastall.shtml#tracks_all ]

What does it all mean for us? Will 2011 be a record-breaking type season such as the one in 2005 or still an above-average-but-not-as-active, similar to the 1995 Atlantic hurricane season? NOAA’S Climate Prediction  Center [ for more on NOAA’s  2011 Atlantic season prediction, go to: http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2011/20110519_atlantichurricaneoutlook.html ] estimated we will see as many as 18 named storms generating in the Atlantic basin in 2011, which means we are already 56% there with about 51% of the official 2011 season still left to go. Speaking strictly in statistical terms it would appear there is a  a slightly higher than average chance that we may have at least a 1995-type season reaching the 18 total named storms predicted by NOAA for the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season.

Satellite image for the aviation industry showing a large tropical wave just south of the Cape Verde islands over the warm waters of the eastern Atlantic, moving west toward hurricane alley, on 28 August 2011

Looking toward the east we see a couple of larger tropical waves to the west and southwest of the Cape Verde islands, and also a couple of minor waves over equatorial Africa. However it is interesting to note that, at least for now, the amount of tropical activity we have seen over equatorial Africa over the past few weeks appears to have subsided considerably, and the same can be noted about the western ranges of the northern Indian ocean.

Consequently, intuitively at least, it would appear there are a couple of cells of disturbed weather currently over the eastern Atlantic that may see cyclonic development in the next few days, but beyond that the tropical wave assembly lineis rather empty for now. Also, there are no good candidates

Mosaic of water-vapor satellite images showing the northern tropics from the eastern Pacific to the Indian ocean on 28 August 2011

for seeds of future tropical cyclone in any of the sub-basins at least for now. We will have to wait and see what weather patterns may evolve over the next few days, which may construct a favorable environment for potential tropical cyclone development anywhere in the Atlantic basin leading into the first days of September. Keeping in mind that September has historically been the most active month for cyclogenesis in the Atlantic basin, it is entirely possible we could see significant cyclonic activity over the next few weeks. We will have to wait and see.