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March-April 2009

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The 2008 Atlantic Hurricane Season

Tropical cyclone activity during the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season was above average. Sixteen tropical storms occurred, of which 8 became hurricanes and 5 strengthened into major hurricanes of Category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. These numbers are significantly higher than the long-term averages of 11, 6, and 2 respectively. In terms of the Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE) index, 2008 had 167 percent of the long-term median ACE, which was almost as much ACE as 2006 and 2007 combined. There was only 1 tropical depression that did not reach tropical storm strength.

The season featured many devastating landfalls, particularly in the areas from Belize across the Greater Antilles to the Turks and Caicos Islands. Hurricanes Gustav, Ike, and Paloma hit Cuba, causing catastrophic damage. Haiti was hit by Gustav and seriously affected by heavy rains from Hurricanes Ike and Hanna. Paloma struck the Cayman Islands as a major hurricane, while Omar was a major hurricane as it passed near the Northern Leeward Islands. In addition, 6 consecutive cyclones hit the United States, including Hurricanes Dolly, Gustav, and Ike. The estimated death toll from the 2008 Atlantic tropical cyclones is 750.

In the following individual storm descriptions, all dates and times are Universal Coordinated Time (UTC).

Tropical Storm Arthur
The development of Arthur appears to have been the result of a combination of the low- to mid-level remnants of eastern Pacific Tropical Storm Alma (see “The 2008 Eastern North Pacific Hurricane Season” on page 45) and a westward-moving tropical wave over the Caribbean Sea. A broad low pressure area formed about 85 miles southeast of Belize City, Belize, on May 30, with the low strengthening to a tropical storm early on May 31 about 50 miles east of Belize City. The maximum winds increased to 45 mph later that day before the storm made landfall in northeastern Belize. The cyclone weakened to a tropical depression early on June 1, and the system dissipated near the northern border between Guatemala and Mexico early the next day.

Arthur produced storm-total rainfalls of up to 15 inches, which caused devastating floods in Belize. The storm caused 5 deaths and an estimated $78 million dollars in damage in that country.

Hurricane Bertha
Bertha developed from a strong tropical wave that moved off the west coast of Africa on July 1. The system became a tropical depression early on July 3 over the far eastern Atlantic about 245 miles south-southeast of the Cape Verde Islands. The depression strengthened into a tropical storm a short time later while passing south of the Cape Verde Islands. Bertha strengthened further late on July 6, becoming a hurricane early the next day about 850 miles east of the northern Leeward Islands. Bertha turned northwestward on July 7 and rapidly grew to a peak intensity of 125 mph (Category 3). After some fluctuation in intensity, on July 12-13, Bertha stalled about 200 miles south-southeast of Bermuda and weakened to a tropical storm. On July 14, the cyclone began moving slowly northward, with the center passing about 45 miles east of Bermuda. Bertha accelerated northeastward and reached hurricane strength again on July 18. Bertha passed about 460 miles southeast of Cape Race, Newfoundland, before becoming extratropical over the north Atlantic on July 20.

The Bermuda Maritime Operations Center reported sustained winds of 68 mph (elevation 255 feet), while Commisioner’s Point reported a wind gust of 91 mph (elevation 262 feet). Large swells resulted in 3 drownings on the New Jersey coast. Bertha’s 17 days as a tropical cyclone make it the longest-lived July tropical cyclone on record in the Atlantic basin.

Tropical Storm Cristobal
Cristobal had a non-tropical origin. A decaying frontal system extended from the Gulf of Mexico across Florida into the Atlantic just off the southeastern coast of the United States on July 15. A low pressure area formed near the southwest coast of Florida on July 16, and a tropical depression formed early on July 19 about 70 miles east of the Georgia-South Carolina border. The cyclone intensified into a tropical storm later that day. Cristobal moved northeastward just offshore of the North Carolina coast on July 20, then moved away from the mid-Atlantic states on July 21. The storm reached an estimated peak intensity of 65 mph on July 22 about 205 miles southeast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Cristobal continued northeastward and was absorbed by a non-tropical low pressure area on July 23 southeast of Nova Scotia.

While the center of Cristobal passed near the North Carolina coast, the strongest winds remained offshore and there was little impact on land.

Hurricane Dolly
Dolly originated from a tropical wave that emerged from the west coast of Africa on July 11. The system moved rapidly westward and generated a surface low pressure area about 1,600 miles east of the Windward Islands on July 13. On July 20, the system reached the western Caribbean and a well-defined circulation center formed, marking the formation of a tropical storm about 310 miles east of Chetumal, Mexico. Dolly reached hurricane status on July 2 and then strengthened to a peak intensity of 100 mph on July 23. Dolly weakened to a Category 1 hurricane before making landfall on South Padre Island, Texas, later that day. After landfall the cyclone steadily weakened. It became a tropical storm early on July 24 and a tropical depression later that day as it crossed the Rio Grande River into northern Mexico, all the while accompanied by heavy rains. Dolly’s surface circulation dissipated over northern Mexico on July 25, but its remnants aloft moved over New Mexico on July 26-27 while continuing to produce heavy rains.

A storm chaser on the coast east of Matamoros, Mexico, reported sustained winds of 96 mph and a peak gust of 118 mph. Harlingen, Texas, reported 15.00 inches of rain. One death and an estimated $1.05 billion in damage in the United States were reported.

Tropical Storm Edouard
Edouard formed from the remnants of an old front that moved southward into the northern Gulf of Mexico on August 2. An area of low pressure that formed along the front developed into a tropical depression on August 3 about 160 miles south of Pensacola, Florida. Moving westward, the depression became a tropical storm later that day. Maximum sustained winds reached 65 mph before Edouard made landfall on the Upper Texas coast on August 5. Edouard moved inland and weakened to a depression early on August 6, with the cyclone dissipating over north-central Texas later that day.

Edouard caused tropical-storm conditions along the upper Texas and southwestern Louisiana coasts. Texas Point, Texas, reported sustained winds of 57 mph with a gust of 71 mph. Baytown, Texas, reported 6.48 inches of rain. Edouard caused 1 death at sea and minor property damage on land.

Tropical Storm Fay
The long-lived Fay was the first of a series of tropical cyclones that seriously impacted the Greater Antilles. The storm formed from a tropical wave that moved westward from the coast of Africa on August 6. A broad low pressure area formed on August 14 as the wave moved across the Leeward and Virgin Islands. The low developed into a tropical depression just after crossing Puerto Rico on August 15, with the cyclone becoming a tropical storm later that day as it moved into the Dominican Republic. Responding to a break in the subtropical ridge over Florida, Fay turned north-northwestward and crossed central Cuba on August 18. Later that day, the center passed over Key West, Florida. The storm turned northeastward and made landfall near Cape Romano, Florida, early on August 19. Maximum sustained winds reached a peak of 70 mph as the center passed near Lake Okeechobee later that day. The center emerged into the Atlantic near Cape Canaveral, Florida, on August 20, then the cyclone turned westward and moved across the northern Florida Peninsula the next day. The center crossed the northeastern Gulf of Mexico on August 22 before making landfall in the eastern Florida Panhandle the next day. Fay moved erratically westward across Alabama and Mississippi on August 24-25, then moved slowly northeastward on August 26. The cyclone became extratropical over Tennessee on August 27 and was absorbed by another low the next day.

The strongest surface winds observed in Fay were at Moore Haven, Florida, which reported sustained winds of 62 mph and a gust of 78 mph. The main impact of the storm was widespread heavy rains that caused flooding in the Greater Antilles and the Southeastern United States. Melbourne, Florida, reported a storm-total rainfall of 27.65 inches. The storm caused 13 deaths—5 each in the Dominican Republic and Florida, and 3 in Haiti. The storm caused an estimated $560 million in damage in the United States. Fay made landfall 8 times during its lifespan, including a record 4 landfalls in Florida.

Hurricane Gustav
The destructive Gustav was the strongest hurricane of the season. It originated from a tropical wave that emerged from the west coast of Africa on August 13. The wave first showed signs of organization on August 18. A tropical depression formed early on August 25, becoming a tropical storm later that day and a hurricane early on August 26. Gustav made landfall later that day on the southwestern peninsula of Haiti as a Category 1 hurricane. On August 29, a weakened Gustav turned northwestward on the south side of a high pressure ridge over Florida and re-intensified into a hurricane as it approached the Cayman Islands. The cyclone passed through those islands early on August 30 as a Category 1 hurricane, and then rapidly intensified into a major hurricane later that day. Gustav made landfalls in the Cuban provinces of the Isle of Youth and Pinar del Rio on August 30 as a strong Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds near 150 mph. It made its final landfall near Cocodrie, Louisiana, on September 1 as a Category 2 hurricane. After landfall, Gustav weakened to a tropical depression over northwestern Louisiana on September 2, then became an extratropical low over the mid-Mississippi valley on September 4. The low was absorbed by another low over the central Great Lakes the next day.

Gustav brought hurricane conditions to portions of western Cuba, with the strongest winds reported at Paso Real de San Diego in Pinar del Rio province. This station reported a 1-minute wind of 155 mph, with a peak gust of 211 mph. The gust is potentially a world record for a wind observed in a tropical cyclone, and the World Meteorological Organization is currently investigating the validity of this report. NOAA’s National Ocean Service station at the Southwest Pass of the Mississippi River reported 6-minute winds of 91 mph, with a gust to 117 mph.

Gustav left a long trail of death and destruction. Major wind and storm surge damage occurred during Gustav’s landfalls in Cuba, while heavy rains in Haiti caused destructive mudslides. Strong winds, high storm surges, and heavy rains also caused an estimated $4.3 billion damage in Louisiana. Winds and flooding caused an estimated $215 million damage in Jamaica. The estimated death toll from Gustav is 112, including 77 in Haiti, 15 in Jamaica, 8 in the Dominican Republic, 7 in Louisiana, 4 in Florida, and 1 at sea.

Hurricane Hanna
Hanna formed from a tropical wave that moved off the west coast of Africa on August 19. On August 26 the wave spawned an area of low pressure that led to the formation of a tropical depression about 325 miles east-northeast of the northern Leeward Islands early on August 28. The depression became a tropical storm 12 hours later. Hanna moved generally west-northwestward over the next several days, passing about 200 miles north of the Leeward Islands and Puerto Rico. On September 1, Hanna strengthened into a hurricane, reaching a peak intensity of 85 mph as its center passed over portions over the Caicos Islands early on September 2. The hurricane weakened to a tropical storm later that day as it continued to move very slowly southward. Over the next day or so, Hanna made a counter-clockwise loop between the Turks and Caicos Islands and the northern coast of Hispaniola. The center passed just east of the central Bahamas on September 4. Hanna accelerated northward and made landfall early on September 6 near the border of North and South Carolina, with 70 mph winds. Hanna became extratropical over southern New England early on September 7.

Hanna caused mostly tropical storm conditions in the Turks and Caicos Islands, portions of the Bahamas, and portions of the eastern United States, with several reports of sustained winds of 60-65 mph. The main impact from the storm was very heavy rainfall over Haiti, with the resulting flooding causing an estimated 500 deaths. In the United States, Hanna caused an estimated $160 million dollars in damage.

Hurricane Ike
Ike was a long-lived and major Cape Verde hurricane that caused extensive damage and many deaths across portions of the Caribbean and along the coasts of Texas and Louisiana. It originated from a well-defined tropical wave that moved off the west coast of Africa on August 28 and then became a tropical depression on September 1 about 775 miles west of the Cape Verde Islands. The depression quickly strengthened to a tropical storm later that day. Ike became a hurricane on September 3, and Ike reached an estimated peak intensity of 145 mph (Category 4) on September 4 when it was located 550 miles northeast of the Leeward Islands. After weakening briefly, Ike regained Category 4 status just before moving across the Turks and Caicos Islands on September 7. Ike then passed over Great Inagua Island in the southeastern Bahamas at Category 3 strength.

Ike turned westward and made landfall along the northeast coast of Cuba in the province of Holguin early on September 8 with maximum sustained winds estimated near 135 mph (Category 4). Ike made a second landfall in Cuba over the extreme southeastern part of the province of Pinar del Rio on September 9, with winds of 80 mph (Category 1). It moved into the southeastern Gulf of Mexico later that day.

Ike developed a large wind field as it moved northwestward across the Gulf of Mexico over the next 3 days, with tropical-storm-force winds extending up to 275 miles from the center and hurricane-force winds extending up to 115 miles from the center. The hurricane gradually intensified as it moved across the Gulf toward the Texas coast. Ike made landfall over the north end of Galveston Island in the early morning hours of September 13 as a Category 2 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 110 mph. The hurricane weakened as it moved inland across eastern Texas and Arkansas and became extratropical over the middle Mississippi Valley on September 14. It then moved rapidly through the Ohio valley and into Canada, producing wind gusts to hurricane force along the way.

Grand Turk Island reported sustained winds of 116 mph as the center of Ike crossed the island. Storm surges of 15-20 feet above normal tide levels occurred along the Bolivar Peninsula of Texas and in much of the Galveston Bay area, with surges of up to 10 feet above normal occurring as far east as south central Louisiana. Storm total rainfalls from Ike were as much as 19 inches in southeastern Texas and 14 inches in Cuba.

Ike left a long trail of death and destruction. It is estimated that flooding and mud slides killed 74 people in Haiti and 2 in the Dominican Republic, compounding the problems caused by Fay, Gustav, and Hanna. The Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas sustained widespread damage to property. Seven deaths were reported in Cuba. Ike’s storm surge devastated the Bolivar Peninsula of Texas, and surge, winds, and flooding from heavy rains caused widespread damage in other portions of southeastern Texas, western Louisiana, and Arkansas. Twenty people were killed in these areas, with 34 others still missing. Property damage from Ike as a hurricane is estimated at $19.3 billion. Additionally, as an extratropical system over the Ohio valley, Ike was directly or indirectly responsible for 28 deaths and more than $1 billion in property damage.

Tropical Storm Josephine
Josephine developed from a well-organized tropical wave that departed the west coast of Africa late on August 31. A tropical depression formed early on September 2 about 315 miles south-southeast of Sal in the Cape Verde Islands. The depression became a tropical storm 6 hours later as it moved west-northwestward. Josephine reached an estimated peak intensity of 65 mph on September 3. Thereafter, a combination of moderate to strong southwesterly wind shear and cooling waters caused the storm to weaken. On September 6, Josephine weakened to a tropical depression and then degenerated into a remnant low. The low continued to move generally westward for the next several days before dissipating on September 10 about 520 miles east of Guadeloupe in the Leeward Islands.

Hurricane Kyle
Kyle originated from a tropical wave and an associated area of low pressure that moved westward from the coast of Africa on September 12. The low moved north of Hispaniola on September 24 and intensified into a tropical storm early the next day. Kyle moved on a general northward track and passed about 345 miles west of Bermuda on the morning of September 27 as it became a hurricane. It reached an estimated peak intensity of 85 mph the next day, then weakened slightly before making landfall near Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, early on September 29. Kyle lost tropical characteristics over New Brunswick later that day and was absorbed by another extratropical low on September 30.

The pre-Kyle low caused rainfalls of up to 30 inches in Puerto Rico, with the resulting flooding and mudslides causing 6 deaths.

Tropical Storm Laura
Laura originated from a non-tropical low pressure system over the central North Atlantic. It formed as a subtropical storm with 60 mph winds early on September 29 about 1,000 miles west of the westernmost Azores islands. On September 30 the system made the transition to a tropical storm. Laura turned north-northeastward and lost tropical characteristics on October 1 about 300 miles east of Cape Race, Newfoundland. The extratropical cyclone continued over the North Atlantic for a few days and lost its identity by October 4.

Tropical Storm Marco
Marco formed out of a broad area of low pressure that had persisted over the northwestern Caribbean Sea and the Yucatan Peninsula for several days at the end of September. By October 4, a small circulation formed near Belize, which then moved inland over the Yucatan Peninsula. The low emerged over the Terminos Lagoon in the state of Campeche late on October 5 and developed into a tropical depression. The depression quickly strengthened to a tropical storm and reached a peak intensity of 65 mph early on October 7 as it moved to the west-northwest. Marco made landfall later that day between Tuxpan and Veracruz. The cyclone weakened rapidly and dissipated shortly after landfall.

Although the historical record on storm size dates back only to 1988, Marco’s 12-mile extent of tropical storm force winds makes it the smallest tropical storm on record in the Atlantic basin.

Tropical Storm Nana
The short-lived Nana formed from a tropical wave that left the coast of Africa on October 6. The wave spawned a tropical depression on October 12 about 795 miles west of the Cape Verde Islands and became a tropical storm later that day. As it moved steadily west-northwestward, southwesterly upper-level vertical wind shear caused Nana to weaken into a tropical depression on October 13. The system degenerated into a remnant low pressure system the next day and eventually dissipated late on October 15 about 940 miles east-northeast of the Leeward Islands.

Hurricane Omar
Omar formed from a tropical wave that moved westward from the coast of Africa on September 30. The wave moved slowly across the tropical Atlantic and reached the Lesser Antilles on October 9. A tropical depression formed on October 13 about 190 miles south of the southeastern tip of the Dominican Republic. The cyclone became a tropical storm on October 14 about 145 miles north-northeast of Aruba. Omar turned northeastward and accelerated the next day as it became a hurricane. It rapidly strengthened to a peak intensity of 135 mph (Category 4) early on October 16 as it passed through the Virgin and northern Leeward Islands. Later that day, southwesterly vertical wind shear caused rapid weakening to a Category 1 hurricane. Omar decayed to a remnant low on October 18 about 865 miles south-southeast of Cape Race, Newfoundland before dissipating on October 21.

Tropical Depression Sixteen
Tropical Depression Sixteen formed from a broad low pressure area first noted over the southwestern Caribbean Sea on October 10. The low developed into a tropical depression on October 14 about 50 miles north-northeast of Cabo Gracias a Dios on the Nicaragua-Honduras border. The sprawling system was never able to gain much organization as it moved along the north coast of Honduras. The center moved inland over northeast Honduras on October 15, and the cyclone dissipated early the next day. The depression, its precursor low, and its remnants caused flooding in portions of Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Belize. These floods were responsible for 16 deaths in the region, with 9 deaths directly attributable to the depression.

Hurricane Paloma
Paloma, the second-strongest November hurricane of record in the Atlantic, formed from a broad area of disturbed weather that developed in the southwestern Caribbean Sea on November 1. The disturbance slowly became better organized and developed into a tropical depression on November 5 about 135 miles southeast of Cabo Gracias a Dios. The depression became a tropical storm on November 6 and then a hurricane early on November 7 about 180 miles south-southwest of Grand Cayman. Paloma continued to intensify rapidly as it turned to the northeast, with the center passing very close to the islands of Little Cayman and Cayman Brac on November 8. The hurricane reached a peak intensity of 145 mph (Category 4) later that day. Vertical wind shear then increased, and Paloma weakened to a Category 2 hurricane before making landfall near Santa Cruz del Sur, in the province of Camagüey, Cuba, on November 9.

After landfall, Paloma moved slowly toward the northwest and rapidly weakened due to strong vertical wind shear and interaction with land. The cyclone weakened to a tropical depression storm later on November 9 and degenerated into a remnant low the next day. The low dissipated over the northeastern Gulf of Mexico on November 14, with the remnant trough reaching the Florida Panhandle later
that day.

An unofficial station on Cayman Brac reported a sustained wind of 151 mph, while Santa Cruz del Sur reported sustained winds of 90 mph and a peak gust of 121 mph. Paloma’s winds and storm surge caused heavy damage on Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, as well as near Santa Cruz del Sur in Cuba. However, there were no reported casualties from the hurricane.                      


JOHN L. BEVEN II and DANIEL P. BROWN are hurricane specialists at the Tropical Prediction Center/National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida. The cyclone summaries are based on Tropical Cyclone Reports prepared by the authors and other hurricane specialists at the National Hurricane Center.


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