Tag Archives: 2005 Atlantic Hurricane Season

Just Tell Me Whether Andrew is Coming

On Saturday, August 22, 1992, I met with Herb Saffir (coauthor of the Saffir-Simpson Scale) in his Coral Gables office, south of downtown Miami, discussing a manual for post-storm damage investigation. I was also due to be the hurricane scientist member of a panel that Herb was chairing for the American Society of Civil Engineers. As the meeting ended it became apparent that Andrew, which had become a hurricane that morning, was approaching the Bahamas and was not going to recurve northward as hoped. It was coming right at us.

My home was in Coconut Grove, about three miles south of downtown Miami. I called my wife and told her to get to the Publix supermarket since a hurricane warning was imminent and we knew from earlier storms that there would soon be a run on supplies. I headed off to Home Depot for plywood and wondered how I could protect the house and still make my scheduled research reconnaissance flight into the storm on Sunday, working on one of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) P3 Hurricane Hunter aircraft. As a hurricane wind specialist, I would be monitoring the wind field and radar displays over a proposed ten-hour mission. That mission was scrubbed when it became apparent that the aircraft would need to be evacuated from their base at Miami International Airport.

Instead, the Air Force Reserves of the 53rd Weather Squadron out of Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi, flew a C-130 into the storm late Sunday, while I thankfully completed my shutters and we accommodated some friends (and their pets) who lived in a storm surge evacuation zone. Our home was near 20 feet (6 meters) above sea level on the coastal ridge in Coconut Grove, so flooding would not be a problem.

Well, Andrew hit overnight, and by 9 a.m. Monday morning, we seemed to be OK. Lots of trees were down and the power out but the house was intact with just a few broken roof tiles and one cracked window. We walked down to Biscayne Bay to check on the flooding and took some pictures, feeling the excitement of viewing a dramatically changed landscape. The mood changed when we received a call (yes, the phones were working even though there was no power) from another friend who was crying and upset about damage further south. We spent hours picking our way about 10 miles south to find that our guest’s home in “Whispering Pines” was within ground zero of the northern eyewall of Andrew. Their roof covering was peeled, double front doors were blown in, and all their living room furniture had been blasted through a sliding glass door into their pool.

Our friends were in shock and time was short due to an impending curfew so we made our way to the main north-south drag, U.S. Route 1 or Dixie Highway (difficult since all the street signs were blown down) for the drive back to Coconut Grove. We were marveling at the lack of any organized response, when we noticed a white school bus making its way southward on US 1.  We couldn’t hold back tears when we saw that the first responders were the City of Charleston Police Department. This was pay back from 1989, when Charleston was hit by Hurricane Hugo and Miami Metro-Dade County helped in the response.

Kate Hale, Emergency Director, Miami-Dade County – interviewed by local TV with regards to response to Hurricane Andrew

Overnight more than 200,000 were left homeless without power and with few supplies. Fifteen died from blunt trauma or drowning in the storm surge. It took days for significant relief to arrive with Kate Hale, the Miami-Dade County emergency director pleading “Where the hell is the cavalry on this one?” Despite the slow pace of response, it was amazing how the communities of South Florida pulled together to help each other out, with neighbors helping each other and sharing supplies.

It was also amazing that the Air Force crew on that C130 flew all night, monitoring Andrew as it strengthened through landfall and continuing to fly a hazardous pattern over land as the storm progressed inland. For several months’ afterwards, my team at NOAA’s Hurricane Research Division worked to piece together data and reconstruct Andrew’s wind field.  We visited sites with incredible damage where lives were lost. The public sent data in and we worked with wind engineering colleagues (Tim Reinhold from Clemson) who borrowed the Virginia Tech wind tunnel to test anemometers similar to the one that measured the peak wind speed in Perrine.

Miami Herald July 22, 1993

State Attorney General Janet Reno called to check on how strong the winds really were to allay some of the rumors swirling around. The Miami Herald published our wind footprint on the front page in 1993, indicating that the highest winds were north of where originally thought.  Our work was finally published as a two-part paper in Weather and Forecasting, which set the stage for objective analysis of hurricane wind fields. Back then the reconnaissance aircraft did not have a way to measure the winds near the surface, so storm intensity was estimated as a fraction of the maximum flight-level winds, resulting in a Category 4 assessment on the Saffir-Simpson scale. After 10 years, analysis of measurements closer to the surface from a new type of instrument, the GPS dropwindsonde, suggested that Andrew may have been a Category 5 storm at landfall. In 2009, research from an even newer instrument (Stepped-Frequency Microwave Radiometer), that remotely senses wind speed from the radiative emission of sea foam, reinforced the Category 5 assessment.

Hurricane Andrew had a profound effect on everyone living in South Florida at the time. It is one of those life milestones from which we measure everything before or after. Miami-Dade County responded with a tough new building code with product testing and enforcement, which influenced the eventual development of a unified Florida Building Code.  And it kickstarted the insurance industry into using sophisticated models that could estimate the risk of future Andrews, and performance in emergency management and response was found to influence presidential elections. The rebuilding created an economic boom, but many folks moved away while others moved in transforming rural areas such as Homestead in Miami-Dade, from farm fields into suburbs.

And for me, I went on to develop a research analysis system called H*Wind, now fully within RMS, which now allows us to monitor and analyze the wind field in real time using every piece of data we can get our hands on, such as satellite, dropsondes or portable MET towers placed just ahead of the storm by engineering and atmospheric science students and faculty at the University of Florida and Texas Tech. The HWind fields have become the analysis of record for significant landfall events and a standard for model evaluation with hundreds of citations in peer-reviewed scientific publications.

We work with scientists from all over the world to help develop cutting edge techniques for remote sensing of winds from space, or to provide the best possible forcing for a storm surge or wave model. We have a much better idea of the intensity and extent of the damaging winds now, and also developed new damage scales based on integrated kinetic energy that consider the destructive potential of large storms. Our extensive enhanced archive of historical storms is now helping us to design and evaluate new hurricane forecast products that are destined to find their way into RMS(one). RMS HWind is now the world’s leading provider of tropical cyclone wind field data, with observation-based data products for both real-time and historical wind field analyses in the western North Atlantic, Eastern Pacific and Central Pacific basins.

Andrew occurred during a year forecast to have “below normal” activity.  I’m often asked, “What kind of year are we going to have”? My answer? It doesn’t matter… just tell me whether Andrew is coming.

From Arlene to Zeta: Remembering the Record-Breaking 2005 Atlantic Hurricane Season

Few in the insurance industry can forget the Atlantic hurricane season of 2005. For many, it is indelibly linked with Hurricane Katrina and the flooding of New Orleans. But looking beyond these tragic events, the 2005 season was remarkable on many levels, and the facts are just as compelling in 2015 as they were a decade ago.

In the months leading up to June 2005, the insurance industry was still evaluating the impact of a very active season in 2004. Eight named storms made landfall in the United States and the Caribbean (Mexico was spared), including four major hurricanes in Florida over a six-week period. RMS was engaged in a large 2004-season claims evaluation project as the beginning of the 2005 season approached.

An Early Start

The season got off to a relatively early start with the first named storm—Arlene—making landfall on June 8 as a strong tropical storm in the panhandle of Florida. Three weeks later, the second named storm—Bret—made landfall as a weak tropical storm in Mexico. Although higher than the long-term June average of less than one named storm, June 2005 raised no eyebrows.

July was different.

Climatologically speaking, July is usually one of the quietest months of the entire season, with the long-term average number of named storms at less than one. But in July 2005, there were no fewer than five named storms, three of which were hurricanes. Of these, two—Dennis and Emily—were major hurricanes, reaching categories 4 and 5 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. Dennis made landfall on the Florida panhandle, and Emily made landfall in Mexico. This was the busiest July on record for tropical cyclones.

The Season Continued to Rage

In previous years when there was a busy early season, we comforted ourselves by remembering that there was no correlation between early- and late-season activity. Surely, we thought, in August and September things would calm down. But, as it turned out, 10 more named storms occurred by the end of September—five in each month—including the intense Hurricane Rita and the massively destructive Hurricane Katrina.

In terms of the overall number of named storms, the season was approaching record levels of activity—and it was only the end of September! As the industry grappled with the enormity of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation, there were hopes that October would bring relief. However, it was not to be.

Seven more storms developed in October, including Hurricane Wilma, which had the lowest-ever pressure for an Atlantic hurricane (882 mb) and blew though the Yucatan Peninsular as a category 5 hurricane. Wilma then made a remarkable right turn and a second landfall (still as a major hurricane) in southwestern Florida, maintaining hurricane strength as it crossed the state and exited into the Atlantic near Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

We were now firmly in record territory, surpassing the previous most-active season in 1933. The unthinkable had been achieved: The season’s list of names had been exhausted. October’s last two storms were called Alpha and Beta!

Records Smashed

Four more storms were named in November and December, bringing the total for the year to 28 (see Figure 1). By the time the season was over, the Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico had been criss-crossed by storms (see Figure 2), and many long-standing hurricane-season records were shattered: the most named storms, the most hurricanes, the highest number of major hurricanes, and the highest number of category 5 hurricanes (see Table 1). It was also the first time in recorded history that more storms were recorded in the Atlantic than in the western North Pacific basin. In total, the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season caused more than $90 billion in insured losses (adjusted to 2015 dollars).

The 2005 Atlantic Hurricane Season: The Storm Before the Calm

The 2005 season was, in some ways, the storm before the current calm in the Atlantic, particularly as it has affected the U.S. No major hurricane has made landfall in the U.S. since 2005. That’s not to say that major hurricanes have not developed in the Atlantic or that damaging storms haven’t happened—just look at the destruction wreaked by Hurricane Ike in 2008 (over $13 billion in today’s dollars) and by Superstorm Sandy in 2012, which caused more than $20 billion in insured losses. We should not lower our guard.


Figure 1: Number of named storms by month during the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season

Table 1: Summary of the number of named storms in the Atlantic hurricane basin in 2005 and average season activity through 2014
* Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE): a measure of the total energy in a hurricane season based on number of storms, duration, and intensity


Figure 2: Tracks of named storms in the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season