Disastrous floods, severe droughts, powerful tropical cyclones, winter storms and other
extreme weather and climate events occur every year throughout the world. Although
they sometimes provide benefits, such as the relief that tropical storms can bring to
drought-stricken areas, these extreme events often result in losses in life and property
with repercussions that are felt throughout societies and economies of all kinds. While
advanced observing systems and forecasting technology have greatly improved warning
and preparedness over the past several decades, in many cases the damages caused by
these storms are made even worse by increasing population density and the development
of more complex societal infrastructures. Rapidly rising coastal populations in many
countries have placed larger numbers of people at risk to typhoons and hurricanes. As
development in historically storm-prone areas continues, there is a greater potential for
increasing damages and loss of life irrespective of any long-term, decadal or year-to-year
variability in the strength or frequency of these storms. Much of this chapter is dedicated
to an examination of significant storm events that occurred in each of the ocean basins
during the period June 1996 through December 2001, particularly those that were notable
for their unusual character and those that resulted in significant personal and property
losses. There were also numerous severe extratropical storms during the period, and a
review of these storms is included in subsequent sections of this chapter. However, it is
important to note that due to the large number of storms that occurred during the review
period, it was not possible to include all significant tropical and extratropical storms in
7.2 Tropical storms in the North Atlantic Basin
Although the North Atlantic hurricane season officially lasts from June through
November, August to October is the most active period with a peak in activity during the
second week of September. On average, nine to ten tropical storms are observed over the
North Atlantic between June and November, with five to six of these systems becoming
hurricanes. Typically, two to three systems reach intense hurricane status in a given year,
as measured by a category 3, 4, or 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale (Simpson 1974).
A primary factor that influences the year-to-year variability in hurricane
development is the El Nino/Southern Oscillation (ENSO). ENSO can substantially
influence the year-to-year variability of vertical wind shear over the North Atlantic basin
and thus the interannual variability of hurricane activity in the region. Gray (1984) has
shown that Pacific warm episodes (El Nino) often favor suppressed tropical storm
activity and a reduction in intense hurricane activity over the North Atlantic by helping to
maintain or enhance the normally high vertical wind shear. In contrast, he notes that
Pacific cold episodes (La Nina) often favor enhanced tropical storm activity and
increased intense hurricane activity by helping to reduce the vertical wind shear across
most of the tropical North Atlantic.
The ENSO influence on tropical storm and hurricane activity was particularly
prominent from 1991 through 2001. The prolonged El Nino-like conditions during 1991-
February 1995 were accompanied by extremely low Atlantic tropical storm and hurricane
activity followed by an increase in tropical storm activity during the cold episode years of
1995 and 1996. Activity was again much below average in 1997 during the strong 1997
through early 1998 El Nino episode. A return of prolonged La Nina conditions in mid-
1998 coincided with above average tropical storm and hurricane development in each of
the succeeding years.
There are also a number of other factors that effect the development of tropical
systems in the North Atlantic. Among these are the configuration of Atlantic sea surface
temperature anomaly conditions, sea level pressure anomalies in the Caribbean and
tropical Atlantic, and the phase of the stratospheric Quasi-Biennial Oscillation. Other
conditions found to be associated with hurricane activity in the North Atlantic include
West African rainfall, the strength of upper level zonal winds in the Caribbean basin and
the tropical Atlantic, and the strength of low level trade winds in the tropical Atlantic
(Goldenberg et al. 2001).
Although there has been no long-term trend toward more named storms, Figure
7.1 clearly shows that the late 1940’s through early 1960’s was a very active period,
followed by an inactive period, which lasted through the early 1990’s. The seven-year
period since 1995 was again a very active period of tropical storm development. But
although 58 hurricanes formed during this period, only 11 made landfall on the US
The 1996 Atlantic hurricane season had 13 tropical storms, with nine of these
systems reaching hurricane status. Six of these storms became intense hurricanes, with all
but one intense hurricane (Bertha in July) forming during August-October. Every
tropical depression over the subtropical North Atlantic during the season strengthened
into a tropical storm. This ratio of tropical storms to depressions during that season was
unprecedented in the historical record. The 1996 season was the second consecutive year
of above-normal North Atlantic tropical storm and hurricane activity. The 1995-1996
two-year period followed an extremely inactive period from 1991-1994. In total, 32
tropical storms were observed during the two-year period, compared to 29 during the
entire 1991-1994 period. This tied 1995-96 with 1933-34 as the most active 2-year period
for tropical storm activity, dating back to 1871 (Halpert and Bell, 1997).
The suppressed 1997 hurricane season featured seven named storms, with three of
these systems becoming hurricanes and one reaching intense hurricane status. The single
major hurricane, Erica, remained intense for only two days and was the only tropical
cyclone to form over the North Atlantic basin during August-September, a record low
number for the period since the beginning of the aircraft reconnaissance era in 1944. One
named storm (Category-1 Hurricane Danny) made landfall in the North Atlantic Basin
when it came ashore along the Gulf coast of the US in July (Bell and Halpert. 1998).
In contrast, the 1998 hurricane season was extremely active and one of the
deadliest in history. The total death toll reached 11 629 lives, largely due to Hurricane
Mitch, which struck Central America in October and claimed more than 11 000 lives.
The last time a single Atlantic hurricane caused so many deaths was in 1780 (see insert).
A total of 14 named storms formed, with nine reaching hurricane status and three
developing into major hurricanes (category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson scale).
Most of the storms during the 1998 season developed during the 35-day period of 19
August-23 September when 10 tropical storms formed, 7 of which became hurricanes
(Bell et al. 1999). During the peak of activity on 25 September, there were four Atlantic
hurricanes in progress at the same time. This was the first time since 1893 that such an
event had occurred.
The 1999 season featured 12 named storms, with 8 of these systems becoming
hurricanes and five reaching intense hurricane status. Most systems developed over the
tropical Atlantic, Caribbean Sea and the southern Gulf of Mexico, which is typical of the
main development region observed during other active years (Shapiro and Goldenberg
1998). Four systems developed after 12 October and three of these late-season storms
became hurricanes, with the last (Hurricane Lenny) reaching Category-4 status. Lenny
developed in mid-November and moved eastward across the central Caribbean Sea. This
unusual track enabled it to become the first hurricane to strike the Lesser Antilles Islands
from the west (Bell et al. 2000).
Five tropical systems made landfall in the United States during the 1999 season.
The most devastating of these was Hurricane Floyd, which produced extremely large
rainfall totals over eastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia, leading to record
flooding in some areas. Although Hurricane Floyd reached Category-4 intensity in the
Bahamas, it weakened to a Category-2 storm before landfall in North Carolina. Floyd's
large size was a greater problem than its winds, as the heavy rainfall covered a larger area
and lasted longer than with a typical Category-2 hurricane. The storm caused a total of at
least 77 deaths and $6 Billion (US) in damages (Lott and Ross, 2000). Approximately
2.6 million people evacuated their homes in Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas--the
largest peacetime evacuation in US history. Ten states were declared major disaster areas
as a result of Floyd, including Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Maryland, New Jersey,
New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Virginia.
The most damage occurred in North Carolina where it made landfall. Rainfall
totals resulting from the storm exceeded 250 mm throughout large parts of the eastern
third of the state with some areas receiving more than 450 mm (see Figure 7.2).
Damages in the state included 7000 homes destroyed, 17 000 homes uninhabitable and 56
000 homes damaged. The Tar River crested 7.3 meters above flood stage, more than
1500 people were rescued from flooded areas and 500 000 customers were without
electricity. A new 24-hour station rainfall record was established when 340 mm of rain
fell in Wilmington, NC.
No hurricanes made landfall in the United States during the 2000 season, but it
was a very active year. There were 14 named storms and eight hurricanes, three of which
developed into major hurricanes. Four systems formed in August, seven in September,
and three in October. The first storm of the season was a long-lived major hurricane,
Alberto, which developed over the tropical Atlantic on 4 August and became
extratropical on 23 August. This longevity made Alberto the third-longest-lived tropical
system over the North Atlantic since reliable records began in 1945. The last storm of
the season developed on 19 October (Tropical Storm Nadine), which contrasts to both the
1998, 1999 and 2001 seasons when tropical storms continued to develop into late
November (Lawrimore et al. 2001).
The disturbance that became Tropical Storm Leslie dropped more than 450 mm of
rain in southern Florida, causing massive urban flooding and approximately $700 million
in property damage. The primary human loss during the 2000 season occurred in Central
America, where Hurricane Gordon killed at least 19 in Guatemala, and where Hurricane
Keith killed at least 19 in Belize and caused $200 million ($US) of damage.
The 2001 Atlantic hurricane season also featured an above-average number of
named storms (15), hurricanes (9), and major hurricanes (4), the third largest number of
named storms since the beginning of aircraft reconnaissance flights in 1945 (Waple et al.
2002). Seventeen named storms formed in 1969, and 19 in 1995.
Three tropical storms, all forming over the Gulf of Mexico, made landfall in the
United States during the 2001 hurricane season. The most costly was Tropical Storm
Allison, an extremely slow-moving system that formed on 5 June and caused extensive
flooding across southeastern Texas and portions of the southeastern United States. It
became the most costly tropical storm to ever strike the US with damages in excess of $5
billion ($US). Two named storms made landfall in Central America. The first was
Tropical Storm Chantal, which crossed the central Yucatan Peninsula on 21 August and
dissipated rapidly thereafter. The second was major Hurricane Iris, which hit Placentia,
Belize, as a Category-4 storm on 8–9 October and caused numerous deaths. Later in the
season major Hurricane Michelle formed over the southern Caribbean Sea and moved
rapidly across central Cuba on 4 November. As a Category-4 storm it was the strongest
hurricane to make landfall in Cuba since 1952 (WMO, 2002).
7.3 Tropical Cyclones in the eastern Pacific
The hurricane season in the eastern North Pacific occurs from May through November.
On average, 16 named storms form including nine hurricanes, of which four develop into
intense storms (category 3 or higher on the Saffir-Simpson scale (Simpson, 1974). As in
the North Atlantic Basin, the presence of a strong El Nino episode in 1997 followed by a
La Nina episode, which persisted until early 2001, influenced the development and
strength of tropical storms throughout much of the period. While Pacific warm episodes
(El Nino) often favor suppressed tropical storm activity over the North Atlantic, and
Pacific cold episodes (La Nina) often favor enhanced tropical storm activity across most
of the tropical North Atlantic, extreme phases of ENSO often have an opposite impact on
tropical storm and hurricane activity over the eastern North Pacific.
There is often a negative correlation between Pacific basin and Atlantic basin
hurricane activity, with relatively inactive Pacific hurricane seasons accompanying active
Atlantic hurricane seasons, and vice versa. This relationship results from the large-scale
pattern of anomalous vertical wind shear, which during active Atlantic hurricane seasons
(see N. Atl. Hurricane section) is below normal across the North Atlantic and above
normal over the eastern tropical Pacific. This dipole pattern of shear anomalies was
prominent during the 1999 hurricane season (Figure 7.3) and was related to a
combination of upper-level easterly wind anomalies and lower-level westerly wind
anomalies across the North Atlantic and eastern North Pacific (Bell et al. 2000).
Climatologically, weak vertical shear is normally observed over a large area of
the eastern North Pacific between 10° and 17.5°N, thus favoring the formation of tropical
cyclones over the North Pacific basin. El Nino typically favors an expanded area of
tropical cyclone activity by reducing the vertical wind shear in that region, and La Nina
favors suppressed tropical cyclone activity by enhancing the vertical wind shear. This
ENSO influence on tropical storm and hurricane activity was particularly prominent
during the 1990s. The cold-episode year of 1996 featured substantially reduced activity
across the eastern North Pacific. Subsequently, the transition to very strong warm episode
conditions during 1997 brought an increase in tropical storm activity over the eastern
North Pacific. While above average tropical cyclone development occurred in 1997,
development of tropical storms and hurricanes was below average in each of the
following four hurricane seasons.
In 1996 eight named storms formed with five reaching hurricane strength. Three
storms made landfall as hurricanes along the west coast of Mexico. Hurricane Alma
made landfall near the town of Lazaro Cardenas in June resulting in more than 15 deaths.
Hurricane Fausto came ashore near Todos los Santos on Baja California on 13 September
and crossed the Gulf of California before making landfall on the mainland of Mexico
near Los Mochis. Some damage occurred on Baja California. Hurricane Hernan also
made landfall as a Category-1 storm near Barra de Navidad in early October and left at
least 100 people injured.
This year of below-average activity was followed by a very active season in 1997
that featured 17 named storms, 9 of which became hurricanes with 7 becoming major
hurricanes. The season also featured an expanded area of tropical cyclone activity
compared to normal, with four systems moving well west of 135°W and two major
hurricanes affecting southwestern North America (Bell and Halpert, 1998).
The entire eastern North Pacific featured low vertical wind shear during August-
October 1997, with generally reduced wind shear throughout the primary region of
tropical storm formation between 10°-17°N and 105°-125°W. This reduced shear, which
resulted primarily from an ENSO-related collapse of the normal easterly winds in the
upper atmosphere, contributed to the active season (Bell and Halpert, 1998).
Two storms were particularly noteworthy during that season. Hurricane Nora
made landfall in late September at Punta Euguenia, Mexico and then San Fernando, Baja
California before traveling up the western shoreline of the Gulf of California. It crossed
into the United States near the California/Arizona border as a tropical storm. Damages in
the US included a loss to agriculture estimated at several hundred million dollars.
Flooding was reported as well as power outages from Los Angeles, California to Yuma,
Arizona. Another storm, Hurricane Pauline struck mainland Mexico near Puerto
Escondido in September with sustained winds estimated of 176 km/hr. It then moved
northwest along the coastline bringing up to 400 mm of rainfall along the southeastern
coast. The hill-side outskirts of Acapulco were particularly hard hit by flooding which
led to more than 200 deaths (Monthly Global Tropical Cyclone Summaries)
The transition from El Nino to La Nina conditions in the equatorial Pacific
coincided with below normal tropical storm activity in 1998, a year in which 13 named
storms formed and nine grew to hurricane strength. The season also featured a reduced
area of tropical cyclone activity compared to normal, particularly along the west coast of
North America where only one system (Hurricane Isis) made landfall in Mexico.
Normally, three or four tropical storms impact this region during the eastern Pacific
hurricane season (Bell et al. 1999). Isis made two landfalls in Mexico, one in southern
Baja California as a tropical storm, and another near Los Mochis as a Category-1
hurricane, causing 14 deaths and damaging more than 750 homes (Monthly Global
Tropical Cyclone Summaries).
The following season was one of the most inactive on record. Only nine tropical
storms formed, six of which became hurricanes with two of those developing into intense
hurricanes in 1999. No hurricane made landfall, but torrential rains from the storm that
had been Hurricane Greg, caused extensive flooding over the states of Colima, Jalisco,
Michoacan, Nayarit and Sinaloa and led to several deaths. The relative inactivity of the
season was linked to a large region of high vertical wind shear that covered much of the
main development region of the eastern North Pacific for most of the season (Bell et al.
Six hurricanes and 11 tropical storms formed in 2000, but no storms made landfall
at hurricane strength. Only Tropical Storms Norman and Rosa made landfall with neither
storm resulting in significant damage or deaths. Fifteen named storms formed in 2001,
eight developed into hurricanes with two strengthening into major hurricanes. No storm
reached land while at hurricane strength, but Hurricane Juliette came ashore in Baja
California on 30 September as a strong tropical storm. As a Category-4 storm several
days prior to landfall, it remained off the coast of the Baja California peninsula bringing
hurricane force winds, heavy rain and battering waves to the region. Earlier in the
season, Hurricane Adolph had maximum sustained winds of 125 kt on 29 May. It was
the first ever Category-4 May hurricane on record in the eastern North Pacific Basin
(Waple et al. 2002).
7.4 Tropical Cyclones in the western Pacific
Following a period of generally higher than normal activity from 1986 through 1994,
tropical cyclone activity was relatively low during the period 1996-2001 as shown in
Figure 7.4 (Yumoto and Matsuura, 2001). The number of tropical cyclones of tropical
storm intensity or higher was less than the 1971-2000 climatological normal (26.7) in
every year except 1997. During the 1997-1998 ENSO warm event, the genesis region of
tropical cyclones in 1997 shifted eastward and approximately half of the tropical cyclones
formed in a region south of 20°N and east of 150°E, where storm genesis is usually much
less than in the west (Figure 7.5a). This eastward shift of the genesis region led to the
easternmost mean genesis longitude of tropical cyclones on record (145.5°E). The
climatological 30-year average is 136.9°E. This eastward shift is consistent with recent
research findings. Wang and Chan (2002) found a large increase in the frequency of
tropical storm formation in the southeast quadrant of the basin (0-17°N, 140-180°E)
during the summer and fall seasons of strong El Ninos, while the frequency decreased in
the northwest quadrant (17-30°N, 120-140°E).
In 1998, there were 16 tropical cyclones, the fewest number in the last 51 years.
By the end of August, only four storms had formed. (See tropical cyclone tracks for 1998
in Figure 7.5b.) In addition, the mean genesis longitude of tropical cyclones in 1998 was
further west than any in the last 51 years (124.8°E). A diagnostic study by Nakazawa
(2001) found a close relationship between the unusually low tropical cyclone activity and
planetary-scale anomalous sets of vertical circulation with subsidence anomalies located
in the western Pacific. The study also showed that the ENSO warm event in 1997-1998
was directly responsible for one of the anomalous sets of vertical circulation, which was
diagnosed across the equator from the eastern South Pacific to the western North Pacific
in the first half of 1998.
El Nino ended and La Nina quickly became established in July 1998 and
continued to strengthen during September-November. It persisted throughout 1999 (Bell
et al. 2000) and corresponded with several unusual aspects of the 1999 tropical cyclone
season. The normal mean genesis latitude of tropical cyclones in the Northwest Pacific is
16.2° N, but in 1999, a record high mean genesis latitude (21.2N) for the period 1951-
2001 was established. In the same year, the mean lifetime of tropical cyclones was the
shortest on record (3.1 days) compared to the climatological normal of 5.2 days. Wang
and Chan (2002) found a mean tropical storm life span of about 4 days during strong cold
years and a much longer average life span of approximately 7 days during strong warm
event years. A record-high mean minimum central pressure for tropical cyclones was
also established in 1999. The average minimum pressure in 1999 was 980hPa, while the
climatological normal is 964hPa.
Notable Northwest Pacific Basin storms that formed during the 1996 through
2001 period include Severe Tropical Storm Linda, which was reported to be the deadliest
storm to affect Vietnam since 1904. It formed in the South China Sea and moved west-
northwest across the southern tip of Vietnam in early November, 1997. Estimates of the
dead and missing were in the thousands, with most of the dead or missing being
fishermen lost at sea. Many thousands of homes were also damaged or destroyed by the
storm (Monthly Global Tropical Cyclone Summaries). In 1999, torrential rainfall
resulting from Typhoon Olga and a stationary frontal system resulted in hundreds of
fatalities in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Republic of Korea and the
Philippines (WMO, 2000). In 2000, Typhoon Prapiroon struck the west coast of the
Korean Peninsula bringing relentless rainfall and flash floods to the region in August and
September. In the same year, Typhoon Saomai caused record-breaking rainfall over parts
of Japan, and a tropical storm exacerbated seasonal monsoon flooding in the Mekong
Delta region of Vietnam in September (WMO, 2001). Destructive storms which occurred
in 2001 included Typhoon Chebi, which struck the Fujian Province of China in June with
maximum sustained winds near 120 km/hr, causing more than 150 deaths. Although the
winds of Severe Tropical Storm Utor were no greater than 111 km/hr, more than 100
people lost their lives when it made landfall in the Philippines in July (WMO, 2002).
7.5 Tropical Cyclones in the Indian Ocean
In June 1998, one of the strongest tropical cyclones in at least 15 years to develop in the
Arabian Sea resulted in thousands dead and missing in the coastal sections of
northwestern India. Tropical Cyclone 03A made landfall north of Porbandar (between
Bombay and Karachi, Pakistan) on 9 June with maximum sustained winds near 165
km/hr. A reported storm surge of approximately five meters swept inland over coastal
regions killing hundreds. There were a total of 1173 lives lost and 1774 missing as a
result of the storm (India Met Dept, RSMC).
Almost one year later an even stronger storm, Tropical Cyclone 02A, again struck
northwestern India, but further north than Tropical Cyclone 03A. TC-02A made landfall
on 20 May 1999 between Kajhar Creek and Kori Creek in western Gujurat, India, near
the Pakistan border. Damage from the storm was far worse because of the persistent
strength of the cyclone. Twelve hours after landfall, maximum surface winds were
estimated near 100 knots and hurricane force winds were still present 24 hours after
landfall. Contributing factors to the continued strength of the storm include the flat
terrain of the Indus River Delta region where the storm passed, little vertical shear, and
the continued entrainment of moist air from the Arabian Sea. In addition to 453 deaths in
Kutch and Jamnagar districts (India Met Dept., RSMC), damage estimates included more
than 100 000 homes either damaged or destroyed, fishing fleets heavily damaged, most
standing crops destroyed and stores of grain and other foods lost. Approximately 60 000
hectares of farmland was seriously damaged, and more than 10 000 head of cattle were
killed (Monthly Global Tropical Cyclone Summaries).
Later in the same year, Tropical Cyclone 05B became one of the strongest
cyclones in a decade to develop in the Bay of Bengal. It made landfall on 29 October
southeast of Cuttack, India, generating a 7-meter tidal surge that swept 20 km inland in
some places. In the coastal town of Paradwip, where the cyclone made landfall, almost
every home was completely destroyed by the storm surge. Heavy rains continued for
days as the cyclone stalled near the coast and then moved slowly southward along the
coastal zone. TC-05B was the most severe cyclone to affect the state of Orissa since
1971. Hard hit districts included Ganjam, Kendrapara, Jagatsinghpur, Puri,
Bhubaneshwar, Bhadrak, Balasore, Cuttack, and Jajpur. At least 10 000 people were
killed, nearly 2 million homes were damaged or destroyed, and more than 1.5 million
hectares of agricultural land was devastated by the storm. The storm also affected
Myanmar, as flooding caused by heavy cyclone-related rains left 20 000 homeless and at
least 10 deaths were reported (Monthly Global Tropical Cyclone Summaries).
In December 2000, Tropical Cyclone 04B became the first tropical cyclone to
strike Sri Lanka since 1992. Because of Sri Lanka’s very low latitude and it’s location in
a basin with a low frequency of tropical cyclone formation, tropical cyclones rarely
directly strike the island nation. The storm was only a minimal cyclone when it made
landfall on 26 December in eastern Sri Lanka near Trincomalee (Figure 7.6), but several
people lost their lives and more than 250 000 people were left homeless. Monsoon
flooding had recently affected the region, and the effects from the tropical cyclone
worsened conditions in the region.
There were also several notable tropical cyclones in the southern Indian Ocean
during the 1999-2000 tropical cyclone season. Tropical Cyclone Leon-Eline was one of
the longest-lived and farthest-traveled cyclones on record in the Southern Hemisphere. It
formed on 3 Feb 2000 south of Java as Tropical Cyclone Leon and traveled across the
Indian Ocean before making destructive landfalls in Madagascar and Mozambique as TC
Eline. It did not dissipate until 23 February over Zimbabwe. The storm made landfall in
Madagascar on 17 February near Mahanoro with estimated 10-minute average wind
speeds as high as 176 km/hr at landfall. Although Eline weakened to a depression while
crossing over the mountainous island of Madagascar, it regained strength over the
Mozambique Channel. The cyclone continued to increase in strength as it approached the
Mozambique coast and it made landfall south of Beira with estimated 10-minute average
winds of 185 km/hr (Monthly Global Tropical Cyclone Summaries).
TC Eline was followed by Tropical Storm Gloria, which struck the northern part
of Madagascar in early March. The towns of Mahanoro and Vatomandry were reportedly
about 80% destroyed and 10 000 persons were left homeless, more than 22 000 isolated.
More than 100 lives were lost in Madagascar due to flooding, the towns of Mahanoro and
Vatomandry were devastated, and 10 000 people were left homeless. In Mozambique TC
Eline exacerbated problems created by severe flooding that had already occurred due to
heavier than normal summer rainfall in January. Summer floods had previously
displaced 300 000 people and by late March more than 1000 people had died and more
than 4 million had been displaced by flooding.
Another intense tropical cyclone (Hudah) formed in the southeastern Indian
Ocean and tracked westward across the Indian Ocean in a similar manner to TC Leon-
Eline. This storm also struck both Madagascar and Mozambique in early April with wind
gusts higher than 220 km/hr. The effects of Eline, Gloria, and Hudah combined to make
the 1999-2000 cyclone season the worst for eastern Madagascar since the 1993-1994
tropical cyclone season. Tropical Cyclones Daisy, Geralda, Litanne, and Nadia all struck
the eastern coast at full cyclone intensity during that season (Monthly Global Tropical
7.6 Tropical Cyclones affecting Australia and the South Pacific
The number of tropical cyclones that developed in four of the past five seasons was near
to above average in the Australia region (Figure 7.7). The most active season occurred in
1998-99 when 13 tropical cyclones formed, nine of which became intense tropical
cyclones. The 2000-01 season was the most inactive. Only eight cyclones formed; five
were classified as moderate cyclones and three as intense.
During the active 1998-99 season, several tropical cyclones contributed to a
wetter than average rainy season (October through April) across the northern half of
northern Australia and record rainfall totals in parts of northwestern Australia. Rainfall
was above normal in every month of the rainy season except for January in northern
Australia. The rainfall in December, March and April was partly associated with a series
of five tropical cyclones; TC Thelma in December, TC Rona in February, TC Vance and
TC Elaine in March and TC Gwenda in April (Bell et al. 2000). With the exception of
TC Rona, these systems also produced large rainfall totals over portions of western
Australia. Seasonal rainfall totals at Darwin (2250 mm) approached the record of 2499
mm set in the 1997-1998 season. The largest rainfall event during the season in Darwin
was a 2-day total of 420 mm, in association with Category-5 TC Thelma. This single
rainfall event contributed more than half of the total seasonal anomaly of 750 mm (Bell et
al. 2000). TC Thelma was the most intense tropical cyclone to traverse the northern
Australian region in the last 35 years, and it was also the first Category-5 storm (on the
Australian scale) observed in the Timor Sea. But although it approached Darwin and
brought hurricane force gusts to the city, it did not make landfall until it crossed the
northwest Kimberly coast as a Category-3 storm (Oates, 2000).
Tropical Cyclone Vance, another Category-5 cyclone, produced the highest
wind gust ever recorded on the Australian mainland in March 1999. At the Learmonth
Meteorological Office, near the mouth of Exmouth Gulf, a wind gust of 267 km/hr was
recorded on 22 Mar (Oates, 2000). The previous record Australian gust of 259 km/hr
was recorded at Mardie, Western Australia, in February, 1975, in association with
Cyclone Trixie. At Onslow, 80 km to the east of Vance's track, a peak gust of 182 km/hr
was recorded. The effects of Tropical Cyclone Vance were widespread. In the town of
Exmouth power lines and trees were brought down, a trailer park destroyed, and a total of
120 houses destroyed and 200 damaged. Heavy rainfall as the storm moved inland also
caused flooding in the southern Goldfields of Western Australia. The main rail and road
links to the eastern states were also cut (Oates, 2000).
During the last week of February 2000, an active monsoon coupled with Tropical
Cyclone Steve brought major flooding and wind damage to northeast Queensland as the
cyclone tracked inland. TC Steve then followed a remarkable, long-lived path, moving
west across the Northern Territory and Western Australia, then across inland areas of
southern Western Australia (Figure 7.8). Steve caused major flooding between Cairns
and Mareeba on the Queensland coast, and left a record flood level of 12.4 m at Mareeba
on 28 February (Paterson and Bate, 2001). Many pastoral stations in inland Western
Australia received their average yearly rainfall in just a few days, with some totals
exceeding 200 mm within 24 hours (Lawrimore et al. 2001).
The Australia region tropical cyclone season of 2000-01 was the least active since
1994-95 (Figure 7.7). However, the season began with the landfall of Tropical Cyclone
Sam (Category-5 on the Australian Cyclone Severity Scale), which made landfall in
Western Australia southwest of Broome. This was the third December in a row with a
landfalling Category-5 cyclone. Tropical Cyclone Thelma in December 1998 was
followed by Tropical Cyclone John in December 1999, which made landfall at Whim
Creek, east of Roebourne.
In the South Pacific, two of the most intense tropical cyclones in recent years
formed in January 1998. Tropical Cyclone Ron and Tropical Cyclone Susan both had
maximum sustained winds of 231 km/hr. A Tropical Cyclone of this strength had not
been present in the South Pacific since Tropical Cyclone Hina in March 1985. The
greatest damage from Tropical Cyclone Ron occurred on the Tongan island of Niuafo'ou,
an island with a population of 735 people. About 67 percent of the buildings were either
damaged or destroyed, and although no deaths were reported, agricultural losses were
severe. From 80-90% of coconut and breadfruit trees were damaged, and losses for
native food crops such as taro, kape, manioc, and bananas were estimated at 95%.
Damage was also reported on the Tongan islands of Niuatoputapu, Tafahi, and Vava'u.
Tropical Cyclone Susan caused one death on Ambrym Island, Vanuatu. High seas
inundated Talaulia village on Kadavu, Fiji, and partly destroyed some beachfront
buildings, roads, jetties, and bridges on the island (Chappel and Bate, 2000).
Another notable storm, Tropical Cyclone Osea, crossed the islands of French
Polynesia in November 1997, causing extensive damage to the northernmost Society
Islands before passing west of Tahiti. Although there was no loss of life, the storm
destroyed or badly damaged more than 700 homes on Maupiti, Bora-Bora, and Raiatea.
About 95 percent of the infrastructure was destroyed on Maupiti and approximately 30
percent on Bora-Bora (Chappel and Bate, 2000).
7.7 Extratropical Storminess
The worst flooding of the 20th century hit parts of eastern Germany, southwestern
Poland, northeast Hungary, Romania, the Czech Republic, and northern Slovakia in July
1997. This region of Europe was affected by two periods of very heavy rainfall on 4-7
July and 18-21 July. Storms during both periods were linked to amplifications of large
amplitude cyclonic disturbances in regions immediately downstream of a blocking high
pressure. Some areas received two to three times their normal July rainfall during the
first period alone. Damage and destruction to businesses, agriculture, and economic
infrastructure affected over 1 million people, with estimates of direct and indirect costs
over $2.0 billion ($US) and over 100 deaths reported (also see Chapter 5).
In January and February, 1999 much of the Alps region of central and eastern
Europe had well above-average wintertime precipitation, leading to a series of deadly
avalanches in France, Switzerland, Austria and Italy. In many areas, this precipitation led
to snowfall totals that were the highest in 50 years. This excessive snowfall, combined
with alternating warm and cold spells, led to unstable snow packs at higher elevations as
the top layers of snow thawed and refroze.
The excessive snowfall resulted from a series of four major storms that impacted
central and eastern Europe during the period, as highlighted by the time series of liquid
equivalent precipitation of St Anton, Austria (Figure 7.9). Several landslides occurred at
the nearby ski resort of Galtur, including one landslide on 24 February, which devastated
the resort. It resulted from the buildup of an exceptionally large and unstable slab of
snow above the town. The slab was estimated to have weighed 170 000 tons and to have
sped downhill at approximately 300 km/hr, taking less than one minute to reach the
In December of the same year, hurricane force winds occurred over large parts of
Europe in association with a series of severe storms. The storms caused more than 100
deaths and billions of dollars ($US) in damage. The winds destroyed numerous buildings
as well as vast areas of forest. Transportation and power outages were common and
lasted for days.
The first major wind storm hit Europe on 3 December, affecting Denmark,
northern Germany, southern Sweden, and the Baltic states. In Denmark, wind speeds
reached 133 km/hr, and the Island of Romo had gusts of 184 km/hr. A second major
wind storm on 26 December brought 151 km/hr sustained winds to northern France,
southern Germany, and Switzerland. Many mountain stations recorded sustained winds
exceeding 195 km/hr. Extreme winds and heavy rains also ravaged southern France on
France was most severely affected by the late December storms, and the strongest
winds in 50 years were recorded in Paris. At least 70 people were reported dead in
France, and over 2 million homes lost electricity. The French government declared a
natural catastrophe across two-thirds of the country on the 29th and mobilized 6 000
troops to clear debris and deliver drinking water to residents battered by the worst winter
storm in decades.
In October 2000, a series of storm systems moved across Western Europe near the
end of the month, causing at least seven fatalities and cutting power to more than 100 000
homes. Fronts associated with a deep low pressure area anchored between Greenland and
Iceland led to a series of potent wave depressions, which tracked across the United
Kingdom and Western Europe near the end of the month (Lawrimore et a. 2001). More
than 40 rivers were placed on flood alert in England and Wales, and hundreds of homes
were evacuated. A UK Met Office synoptic analysis at 0600 UTC on 30 October
indicated a central lowest pressure of 958mb. The British Meteorological Office reported
that this was the worst storm to affect the region since October 1987.
7.7.2 United States
The year 1999 was notable for several extreme weather events in the United States.
Among these were a record number of tornadoes for the month of January. During that
month 169 tornadoes touched down, with most occurring in the states of Tennessee and
Arkansas. On 17 January, a severe weather outbreak left nine people dead in Tennessee.
Four days later 38 tornadoes occurred in Arkansas and a total of eight people died as a
result of the storms. Another tornado outbreak on January 21-22 spawned 72 tornadoes.
Later that same year a very high, but not record breaking, number of tornadoes
occurred in May (312 tornadoes). A total of 54 people died as a result of the storms, with
48 of those deaths occurring in a five-hour period on the afternoon and evening of 3 May.
Twenty six tornadoes struck across Kansas and Oklahoma with the strongest, an F5 (on
the Fujita scale; Fujita, 1987) striking Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, leaving 38 people
dead. Two hours later an F4 storm killed six people in Haysville, Kansas. The F5
tornado that struck Oklahoma City formed approximately 45 miles southwest of the city
and cut a path at least a half-mile wide as it moved north and east across the Oklahoma
City area, staying on the ground for almost 4 hours. Winds of 512 km/hr were measured,
the highest wind speeds ever recorded at ground level. At least 8000 homes and
businesses were either damaged or destroyed. It is possible that hundreds of people
would have died from the tornado in the densely populated Oklahoma City area if not for
the advanced warning provided by forecasters and the attention of the general public to
warnings about the developing storms.
The central US is traditionally known as “Tornado Alley”. This part of the
country, which covers the states from Texas northward to the Dakotas, has a unique
combination of geography and climate that produces numerous severe weather events.
Dry air flowing eastward from the Rockies meets warm, moist air flowing north from the
Gulf of Mexico, and cooler air flowing southward from Canada. These atmospheric
ingredients fuel violent thunderstorms, which spawn tornadoes. Spring (March – May) is
the season of most frequent occurrence for violent deadly tornado outbreaks in this part
of the United States.
The winter season of 1998-1999 was also notable for excessive precipitation in
the northwestern United States. More than 1600 mm of precipitation was recorded in
much of the coastal region from northwest Washington to northwest California from
November 1998 – February 1999, with the largest totals exceeding 2000 mm over the
Olympic Peninsula of Washington and northwestern Oregon. At higher elevations much
of this precipitation fell as snow. A new single-season record for the most snowfall ever
measured in the United States (28.96 m) was recorded on Mt. Baker in Washington State.
The previous snowfall record was 18.5 m, recorded at Mt. Rainier/Paradise Station
during the 1971-72 season.
In 2001, a series of late-season winter snow storms kept significant snow pack in
place well into spring in the northeastern United States. An early February snowstorm
brought more than 60 cm of snow from New Jersey to Maine with lesser amounts falling
inland. Strong winds, which led to considerable drifting of snow, increased the impact of
the storm. In early March, another strong storm system moved up the East Coast. The
heaviest snows occurred across interior sections of Pennsylvania, New York, and New
England with 60 cm to 1 m of snow reported at a number of locations. Winds associated
with this storm gusted to over 97 km/hr. Near the end of March, yet another storm
moved up the East Coast bringing additional accumulations across portions of the mid-
Atlantic and New England states.
In December 2001, Buffalo, New York, broke a record for the most snowfall
received during any month of the year with 210 cm, nearly all of which fell from 24 to 28
December. The previous maximum monthly snowfall record of 173 cm occurred in
December 1985. Downwind of Lake Ontario, Montague, New York, received 322 cm of
snow during the same period. Unseasonably warm temperatures during the fall and early
winter in the Northeast kept the Great Lakes water temperatures warmer than normal. By
the last week of December, a strong polar low pressure system over Hudson Bay became
cut off from the upper-air pattern and remained in place for several days. This system
advected strong and cold Canadian air across Lake Erie, which led to the unprecedented
lake-enhanced snowfall amounts observed in and around the Buffalo area. Prior to
Christmas Eve, only 3 cm of snow had fallen the entire season.
The 1996-2001 period was notable for two very severe extratropical storms in this region.
The first occurred in 1998 and led to a maritime disaster off the southeastern Australia
coast. The second occurred in 1999 when a severe thunderstorm produced an extremely
damaging hail storm in Sydney.
On 26-27 December 1998, an intense low pressure system rapidly intensified
overnight along the southeastern coast of Australia during the annual Sydney to Hobart
Yacht Race. The timing and intensity of this storm resulted in the most disastrous event
in the 54-year history of the yachting classic. Of the 115 yachts that set sail on 26
December, only 44 reached their destination due to storm force winds and high seas. The
destruction caused by the storm encountered by the fleet triggered a major search and
rescue operation and resulted in the abandonment of several yachts and the death of six
The yachts encountered very severe wind and sea conditions before most were
half way into the approximately 630 nautical mile journey down the southeast coast of
Australia. The worst weather to hit the fleet occurred off the southern New South Wales
coast and in eastern Bass Strait. Mean wind speeds in this area were as high as 100 to
110 km/hr with much higher gusts. Many yachts appeared to have experienced
maximum wave heights in the 10 to 15 meter range.
The explosive development of the storm was a result of a combination of
favorable upper level and surface features. Very cold air moved north over Victoria
while very warm moist air moved southwestward across the Tasman Sea towards
Tasmania. There were also above average sea surface temperatures off the coast of
southern New South Wales and eastern Victoria and the presence of a strongly curving
upper level jet stream to the north of the surface low centre.
The second event occurred on 14 April, 1999 when an especially rare and intense
supercell thunderstorm developed along the New South Wales coast south of Sydney.
The storm, which lasted approximately 5 ½ hours, eventually moved through the eastern
suburbs of Sydney dropping record size hail stones and resulting in Australia’s most
costly natural disaster on record. More than 20 000 properties and 40 000 vehicles were
damaged during the storm with more than 25 aircraft damaged at Sydney Airport
Late in the afternoon of 14 April a thunderstorm formed about 115 km to the
south-southwest of Sydney, over land to the north of Nowra. This storm subsequently
developed into a supercell, a rare but unusually severe type of thunderstorm whose
structure, behavior, intensity, and longevity is quite different than ordinary
thunderstorms. The storm moved up the New South Wales coastline, producing
substantial amounts of hail in the Wollongong area before moving out to sea. It
continued to track north-northeast, paralleling the coast, before crossing the coast again
south of Sydney. It continued along the coast and devastated Sydney’s eastern suburbs
and eventually moved out to sea and dissipated (see Figure 7.10).
This storm was highly unusual in several respects. The size of the hail (9 cm) that
fell in the Sydney area was among the largest ever recorded and the duration of the storm
was remarkably long (five and a half hours). The track of the storm was also very
unusual, as it moved from land to sea and then back to land before finally moving out to
sea. The storm also occurred outside the normal thunderstorm season (November -
February) and during a time of day when there is a low probability of storms (between 7
and 10 PM). The combination of these characteristics along with the track of the storm
over eastern suburbs of Sydney led to the extremely high costs of the storm.
Anomalous cold and repeated snowstorms in Mongolia during the winter of 1999-2000
resulted in severe economic losses and strained food supplies. Directly influenced by the
Siberian high during winter, daily minimum temperatures in Mongolia often drop below
-30°C, but early extremes in temperature coupled with unusually heavy snowfall made
the 1999–2000 winter season (DJF) exceptional.
Conditions were particularly severe throughout the winter months in central and
western areas along the Hangai mountain range where minimum daily temperatures
dropped below -40°C. Periods of severe cold were interrupted by unusually heavy
wintertime precipitation, and the combination of unusually low temperatures and
anomalously high precipitation caused much of Mongolia’s vast grasslands to become
capped by ice and snow, greatly stressing livestock, the mainstay of the rural economy.
Repeated snowstorms worsened grazing conditions as the 1999–2000 winter
progressed. Temperatures plunged and remained below normal for a prolonged spell from
late December 1999 through much of January as the cold Siberian high settled directly
over the region. Average monthly surface temperatures as low as -37°C in parts of
western Mongolia combined with heavy snowfall to create the most severe winter
conditions since 1968. The snow depth in some areas of the central province of Dundgobi
reached 1 m by February 2000 and led to extremely high mortality rates among livestock.
Across Mongolia the extreme winter of 1999–2000 directly impacted over 500
000 people. More than 2.3 million livestock were lost, more than 7% of the national
livestock population. The loss of livestock strained food supplies and had a severe
economic impact in a country where over 30% of the gross domestic product and one-
third of the population is dependent on animal husbandry (Lawrimore et al. 2001).
Severe winter weather returned to Mongolia again in 2000-01 and extended
across Siberia and the far east of Russia. Unusually cold conditions developed over
Siberia in November 2000 as an anomalous ridge in the upper-level flow developed west
of the Ural Mountains with an accompanying, unusually deep downstream trough
situated over eastern Asia. This flow pattern brought anomalously warm air to Europe
while maintaining cold conditions over Siberia and Mongolia. This general pattern
persisted for the next few months before finally breaking down in February of 2001,
marking the end of the extreme cold in the region.
In Siberia the November–January 2001 period was the coldest in over 30 years
with some areas recording the coldest winter since 1949. Winter storms at the very start
of 2001 brought significant snowfall to Mongolia, Manchuria, and the Korean Peninsula.
Livestock mortality rates in Mongolia, already high due to the extreme cold, worsened as
snow cover restricted access to grazing land on the country’s vast steppes.
By February 2001 nearly 850 000 livestock had reportedly died in Mongolia,
twice the number of those lost at the same time in 1999-2000. In the Chinese region of
Inner Mongolia, heavy snow during early January 2001 blocked roads, isolating many
small communities. The Chinese Red Cross indicated that the storms were the worst to
impact the region in 50 years. In Siberia and Russia’s Far East region the bitterly cold
conditions were exacerbated by power and heating failures as high energy demand and
high fuel prices limited power production. Cases of frostbite, hypothermia, and weather-
related fatalities, although common in winter, were reported to be well above average
(Waple et al. 2002).
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Soc., 79, S1BS50.
Bell, G. D, M. S. Halpert, R. C. Schnell, R. W. Higgins, J. H. Lawrimore, V. E. Kousky,
R. Tinker, W. Thiaw, M. Chelliah, and A. Artusa, 2000: Climate Assessment for 1999.
Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 81, S1-S50.
Bell, G. D, M. S. Halpert, C. F. Ropelewski, V. E. Kousky, A. V. Douglas, R. C. Schnell,
and M. E. Gelman, 1999: Climate Assessment for 1998. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 80,
Chappel, L.-C. and P.W. Bate, 2000: The South Pacific and southeast Indian Ocean
tropical cyclone season 1997-98. Aust. Met. Mag., 49, 121-138.
Fujita, T. Theodore, 1987: "U.S. Tornadoes Part 1 70-Year Statistics," Satellite and
Mesometeorology Research Project (SMRP) Research Paper Number 218, University of
Chicago, 122 pp.
Goldenberg, S.B., C.W. Landsea, A.M. Mestas-Nunez, W.M. Gray, 2001: The Recent
Increase in Atlantic Hurricane Activity: Causes and Implications. Science, 293, 474-479.
Halpert, M. S., and G. D. Bell, 1997: Climate Assessment for 1996. Bull. Amer. Meteor.
Soc., 78, S1-S49.
India Meteorological Department, History of Past Cyclones, 1970-1999. Regional
Specialized Meteorological Centre Tropical Cyclones – New Delhi.
Lawrimore, J.H., M.S. Halpert, G.D. Bell, M.J. Menne, B. Lyon, R.C. Schnell, K.L.
Gleason, D.R. Easterling, W. Thiaw, W.J. Wright, R.R. Heim Jr., D.A. Robinson, and L.
Alexander, 2001: "Climate assessment for 2000". Bulletin of the American
Meteorological Society, 82, 6, S1-S55.
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Extreme Weather and Climate Events. [Asheville, N.C.]: National Climatic Data Center,
Monthly Global Tropical Cyclone Summaries, 1997-2001, ed. Padgett, G., Andalusia,
Nakazawa, T., 2001: Suppressed tropical cyclone formation over the western North
Pacific in 1998. J. Meteor. Soc. Japan, 79, 173-183.
Oates, S., 2000: The South Pacific and southeast Indian Ocean tropical cyclone season
1998-99, Aust. Met. Mag., 49, 223-244.
Paterson, L. A. and P.W. Bate, 2001: The South Pacific and southeast Indian Ocean
tropical cyclone season 1999-2000, Aust. Met. Mag., 50, 123-135.
Simpson, R. H., 1974: The hurricane disaster potential scale. Weatherwise, 27, 169-186.
Gray, W. M., 1984: Atlantic seasonal hurricane frequency: Part I: El Nino and 30-mb
quasibiennial oscillation influences. Mon Wea. Rev., 112, 1669-1683.
USA Department of Commerce, NOAA, 1998-2001: Monthly State of the Climate
Reports, Asheville, NC, USA
Yumoto, M. and T. Matsuura, 2001: Interdecadal variability of tropical cyclone activity
in the western North Pacific. J. Meteor. Soc. Japan, 79, 23-35.
Wang, B. and J.C.L. Chan, 2002: How Strong ENSO events affect tropical storm activity
over the Western North Pacific. J. Climate, 15, 1643-1658.
Waple, A.M., J. H. Lawrimore, M. S. Halpert, G. D. Bell, W. Higgins, B. Lyon, M.
J. Menne, K. L. Gleason, R. C. Schnell, J. R. Christy, W. Thiaw, W. J. Wright, M.
J. Salinger, L. Alexander, R. S. Stone, and S. J. Camargo, 2002. Climate Assessment for
2001. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 83, 6, pp S1-S62.
WMO, 1999: WMO Statement on the Status of the Global Climate in 1998.
WMO, 2000: WMO Statement on the Status of the Global Climate in 1999.
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Figure 7.1 Annual number of tropical storms and hurricanes in the North Atlantic Basin.
(National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration)
Figure 7.2 Observed rainfall amounts in South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia for
the period 14-17 September 1999 that resulted from Hurricane Floyd. (National
Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration)
Figure 7.3 Magnitude of the August-October 1999 anomalous vertical wind shear. Wind
shear is calculated as the difference in the wind speeds between 200 and 850 hPa.
Below-average wind shear values are shaded red, while above-average shear values are
Figure 7.4 Annual number of tropical cyclones in the western North Pacific basin.
(RSMC Tokyo Typhoon Center/Japan Meteorological Agency)
Figure 7.5 Tropical Cyclone (TC) tracks in the western North Pacific in (a) 1997 and (b)
1998. TCs are labeled in color by the month when they reached tropical storm intensity
or higher for the first time. (RSMC Tokyo Typhoon Center/Japan Meteorological
Figure 7.6 Satellite image of landfalling Tropical Cyclone 04B on 26 December 2000
from the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer instrument aboard the NOAA-16
polar orbiting satellite. (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration)
Figure 7.7 Annual number of tropical cyclones (all categories combined: weak, moderate
and intense) in the Australia region (105°E-160°E) from 1969 through 2001. (Australia
Bureau of Meteorology)
Figure 7.8 Path of Tropical Cyclone Steve in February 2000. (Australia Bureau of
Figure 7.9 Daily observed liquid equivalent precipitation (mm) at St. Anton, Austria,
during January – February 1999.
Figure 7.10 Radar-derived track and severity classification of the intense core of the
thunderstorm, including the location, time (EST) and estimated storm speed and direction
of movement of the centre of the storm echo at 10-minute intervals. (Australia Bureau of
Hurricane Mitch Special Highlight Section
Not since the Great Hurricane of 1780, which killed approximately 22,000 people in the
eastern Caribbean, was there a more deadly hurricane in the Western Hemisphere than
Hurricane Mitch. It brought such devastation to Central America in late October 1998
that it was nearly a week before the magnitude of the disaster began to reach the outside
world. Though the exact death toll will never be known, more than 11 000 people were
killed, and more than three million people were either left homeless or severely affected
by the storm. The President of Honduras, Carlos Flores Facusse, claimed the storm
destroyed 50 years of progress. The table below lists the top seven most deadly Western
Within four days of its birth as a tropical depression on 22 October 1998,
Hurricane Mitch had grown into a Category-5 storm on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane
Scale, and by 26 October, the monster storm had deepened to a pressure of 905 millibars
with sustained winds of 290 km/hr and gusts well over 320 km/hr. It thus became tied for
the fourth strongest Atlantic hurricane on record based upon barometric pressure values.
Though the pressure began rising six hours later, Hurricane Mitch remained a Category-5
storm for a continuous period of 33 hours, the longest continuous period for a Category-5
storm since Hurricane David in 1979 (36 hours). In addition, sustained winds of 285
km/hr persisted for 15 hours, the third longest period of such winds on record after the
continuous 18 hours of 285 km/hr winds or higher by Hurricane Camille in 1969 and
Hurricane Dog in 1950. Though exact comparisons are suspect due to differing
frequencies in observation times (3-hourly versus 6-hourly observations) and a bias in
earlier years toward higher estimated wind speeds, it is easily apparent that Mitch was
one of the stronger storms ever recorded in the Atlantic.
After threatening Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, Mitch moved westward and
by 2100 UTC on 27 October, the Category-5 storm was about 60 miles north of Trujilo
on the north coast of Honduras. Wave height estimates north of Honduras at the height of
the storm were as high as 44 feet, according to one wave model. The center of the
hurricane remained near the north coast of Honduras from late on the 27th through the
28th, before making landfall during the morning of the 29th east of la Ceiba with estimated
surface winds of 155 km/hr. Coastal regions and the offshore Honduran island of
Guanaja were devastated. Mitch then began a slow westward drift through the
mountainous interior of Honduras, finally reaching the border with Guatemala two days
later on 31 October.
The slow motion of the hurricane and the large east-west mountain range in this
part of Central America resulted in tremendous amounts of rainfall, primarily in
Honduras and Nicaragua. Rain fell at the rate of more than 300 mm per day in many of
the mountainous regions. Total rainfall attributed to the storm was higher than 900 mm in
some locations, and the resulting floods and mud slides virtually destroyed the entire
infrastructure of Honduras and devastated parts of Nicaragua, Guatemala, Belize, and El
Salvador. Hundreds of thousands of homes were destroyed, and whole villages and their
inhabitants were swept away in the torrents of flood waters and deep mud that rushed
In Honduras, the storm killed more than 7 000 people and destroyed 250 000
homes. It destroyed at least 15 villages, and at least 20% of country's population was left
homeless. An estimated 70 - 80 percent of the transportation infrastructure was
destroyed, and the majority of the country's bridges and secondary roads were washed
away. Some buildings 350 years old in capital city of Tegucigalpa were reported to be
washed away completely. One third of all buildings in the capital were damaged by the
floods. In western Nicaragua, intense near-stationary rain bands on 29-30 October filled
the crater lake on top of the dormant Casita volcano, causing the a collapse of the walls
and mud flows that eventually covered an area ten miles long and five miles wide. Five
communities were totally buried in mudslides that left mud several feet deep. Over 2 000
of the dead were from the areas around the collapsed volcano near Posoltega. In many
cases, survivors had to wait days before the mud had dried enough to walk to rescuers.
At least 4000 Nicaraguans died throughout the country.
Hurricane Mitch also had devastating effects in El Salvador and Guatemala.
More than 200 people were killed and 50 000 were forced to leave their homes in El
Salvador, and almost 200 people died in Guatemala. More than 80% of the banana crop
was lost and almost 1 million Guatemalans suffered some kind of damage or loss from
the storm. Dozens of people were also killed in Belize, Costa Rica and Mexico from the
effects of the storm.
Hurricane Date Areas Struck Deaths
"The Great Hurricane" 10-16 October, 1780 22,000
Hurricane Mitch 26 Oct – 4 Nov, 1998 11,000+
Galveston, Texas 8 September, 1900 Galveston Island, USA 8,000
Hurricane Fifi 14-19 September, 1974 Honduras 8,000
Dominican Republic 1-6 September, 1930 Dominican Republic 8,000
Hurricane Flora 30 Sep – 8 Oct 8, 1963 7,200
Martinique 6 September, 1776 Point Petre Bay >6,000
US Hazards Assessment special section
(Ed included a figure in this special section, but it doesn’t show up when copying from
Wordperfect to this Word document. Will send it once he sends me the high-res image.)
U.S. Hazards Assessment (formerly Threats Assessment) is a user-oriented product
which is intended to provide emergency managers, planners, forecasters and the public
advance notice of potential hazards related to climate, weather and hydrologic events. It
integrates existing NWS official medium- (3-5) day, extended- (6-10 day) and long-
(monthly and seasonal) range forecasts, and hydrologic analyses and forecasts, which use
state-of- the-art science and technology in their formulation.
CPC produces a new Hazards Assessment each week, on Tuesday, using forecasts from
numerical weather prediction models. Assessments are updated frequently following
their release. The assessments focus on extreme weather events - those in the upper and
lower 15% of the observed distribution. Written discussions allow users to assess the
status of the global climate system and its likely influence on regional weather. Each
Wednesday, at 2 PM Eastern Time, the Hazards forecaster conducts a telephone
conference call lasting about 30 minutes. The call gives users and producers the
opportunity to discuss the Assessment, to exchange ideas and to respond to user
concerns, questions and comments. CPC takes its users very seriously. Very often, users
suggestions are incorporated into the production of the Assessment.
Hazards Assessments relate predicted weather events to ongoing climate events, such as
El Nino, Madden-Julian Oscillation and the North Atlantic Oscillation, all of which have
strong impacts on the frequency and strength of weather events over the continental