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September 8, 2010 / Dave Gorham

Tropical Storm Igor Forms in East Atlantic

The Cape Verde season just won’t quit after starting late in August.  As a matter of fact, we’ve seen 6 named storms form since August 21st, two of them major hurricanes (Danielle/Earl), and 5 of them forming in the far eastern Atlantic.  Now we have Tropical Storm Igor out there about 2500 miles east of the Caribbean Sea.  Igor’s winds are only 40 mph right now, but I think that Igor is quite likely going to become a large and powerful hurricane in 4-6 days.  The big question is – where will Igor go?

Climatology is often a very good tool for estimating what might or might not happen.  Let’s take a look at all September storms that passed within about 75 miles of Igor’s current position during the month of September and see where the past storms went.  The records start way back in 1851, though not many storms were identified so far east during the 19th Century.  To do this, I like to use the Coastal Services Center’s Hurricane Viewer tool.  When I plugged in the coordinates for Igor (13.7N / -23.5W), selected all storms within 65nm of Igor and then only the month of September, I got the map below:

What you see on this map are the tracks of 13 named storms that formed or passed within 75 miles of Igor’s location from 1851-2009 during the month of September only.   Personally, I was shocked when I saw the results of my quick study.   I had expected about 95-100% of storms in the region to recurve east of the Caribbean and head safely out to sea.  But what climatology indicates is that 5 of the 13 storms struck the U.S., and these were big name storms.   Of those 5 that struck the U.S., 2 struck the northeast Caribbean as major hurricanes.  And to top it off, 4 of those 5 hurricanes became Category 5 hurricanes on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.  Let’s break those five down:

  • The 1928 Okeechobee Hurricane – Formed on September 6th just east of Igor and tracked just north of west until it entered the northeast Caribbean on  September 12th as a Category 4 hurricane with 135 mph winds. On the evening of September 13th, it became the only Category 5 hurricane (160 mph winds)  in recorded history to make a direct hit on the island of Puerto Rico, killing over 300 people. But it wasn’t done yet, From Puerto Rico it tracked west-northwest straight to southeast Florida where it struck as a Category 4 hurricane with 155 mph winds on the night of the 17th of September.   Over 2500 people died in southeast Florida, many when the dike around Lake Okeechobee broke, flooding an area covering hundreds of square miles.
  • The Great 1938 New England Hurricane – Formed just east of Igor’s current location on September 10th. It tracked to the west-northwest for 9 days, reaching just north of the eastern Bahamas as a Category5 hurricane with 160 mph winds.  So far, no land areas were threatened.  But that’s when the hurricane made a rather sharp turn to the north and accelerated to a speed of nearly 60 mph off the East U.S. Coast.  It struck Long Island early on the 22nd of September as a large and powerful hurricane.  Some records state that it had become extratropical before reaching New England, other records have it as a large Category 3 hurricane at landfall.   But it was the costliest and deadliest hurricane in New England history, killing between 700-800 people and causing property losses of around $306 million dollars ($4.72 billion in 2010 dollars).
  • Fort Lauderdale Hurricane of 1947 – Formed a little east of Igor’s current location on September 4th.  It passed northeast of the islands of the eastern Caribbean on the 13th as a Category 4 hurricane with 135 mph winds.  By the 16th, it had reached Category 5 strength just east of the lower Florida peninsula.  It struck near Fort Lauderdale, FL as a Category 4 hurricane with 155 mph winds on the morning of September 17th, killing 51 people there.  Two days later, it struck southeast Louisiana as a Category 2 hurricane with winds of near 100 mph, producing wind gusts to 110 mph in New Orleans and 120 mph in Baton Rouge.  The hurricane killed 12 people in Louisiana and 22 in Mississippi.
  • Gloria of 1985 – Formed on September 16th very near where Igor is currently located.  It tracked to the west to west-northwest, passing just north of the islands of the eastern Caribbean on the 23rd as a rapidly-intensifying Category 1 hurricane.  By the 25th, Gloria was a strong Category 4 hurricane with 150 mph winds as it passed just northeast of the Bahamas.  Gloria took a turn to the north and grazed the Outer Banks of North Carolina on the evening of the 26th with 105 mph winds then slammed into Long Island with 100 mph winds on the 27th, killing 8 people.
  • Hugo of 1989 -Formed just east of Igor on the 10th of September, tracking westward while slowly intensifying.  Hugo reached Category 5 strength with winds of 160 mph on the 16th, a day before it raked the islands of the northeast Caribbean as a 145 mph Category 4 hurricane.   On the 22nd, Hugo struck South Carolina as a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 145 mph, causing extensive devastation across the Carolinas.

Well that’s quite a list of Caribbean and U.S. impacts from previous hurricanes which have formed or passed near Igor’s current position!  But where will Igor track?  It’s too soon to tell for sure.  Model guidance suggests that Igor will track to the north of the eastern Caribbean in 7-8 days. Thereafter, the models diverge.  Some take Igor off to the north and out to sea, but the European model indicates that Igor’s northward motion could be blocked by high pressure to the north, sending it westward toward the U.S. East Coast.  I think that Igor will most likely take a path safely out to sea, but given the climatology of past storms I’m not 100% confident Igor won’t strike land.

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