Hurricane Charley
FormationAugust 9, 2004
Dissipation August 15, 2004
Highest winds 150 mph
Lowest pressure 941 mbar
Deaths 15 direct, 20 indirect
Damages $16,000,000,000 (2004 USD)
Areas affectedJamaica, Cayman Islands, Cuba, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina
Part of the 2004 Atlantic hurricane season

Hurricane Charley was the third named storm, second hurricane, and the second major hurricane of the 2004 Atlantic hurricane season. Charley formed on August 9 near the Windward Islands. It moved quickly west-northwest through the Carribean Sea, intensifying into a hurricane as it did so. Charley turned more to the northwest and struck Cuba as a Category 3 hurricane, then moved northeast, emerged into the Gulf of Mexico, and finally made landfall on the island of Cayo Costa, Florida on August 13 as a 150 mph Category 4 hurricane. Charley then proceeded to make landfall in mainland Florida near Punta Gorda, still a Category 4 hurricane, packing 145 mph winds. After landfall, Charley continued north-northeast at a fast foward speed, making landfall near Cape Romain, South Carolina as a Category 1 hurricane. It then moved offshore briefly, and made its final landfall near North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Charley dissipated on August 15. Charley was the first hurricane to strike the United States coastline since Hurricane Andrew in 1992, which struck as a Category 5 hurricane. Charley was also similar to Andrew in that it hit Florida and it was very small in size. Charley would be one of five tropical cyclones in 2004 to strike Florida, and one of four hurricanes.

Charley caused $16 billion (2004 USD) in damage and killed 35 people; 15 direct, 20 indirect.

Meteorological history

On August 4, a tropical wave exited the coast of Africa. Radiosonde data from Dakar showed that this wave was accompanied by an easterly jet streak of around 55 knots near the 650 mb level. In addition, the wave produced pressure falls on the order of 5 mb over a 24-hour period near the west coast of Africa. After crossing the coast, the wave was not particularly impressive on satellite imagery, as it only had a small area of associated deep convection. As the wave moved rapidly westward across the Atlantic Ocean, the cloud pattern gradually improved, with cyclonic turning becoming evident in the low clouds. On August 8, Dvorak classifications were taken on the wave. The wave developed curved convective bands over the next 12 hours as it continued to become better organized. This, along with surface observations from the Windward Islands, led the National Hurricane Center to classify the wave as Tropical Depression Three at 1200 UTC August 9 while located about 100 miles south-southeast of Barbados. Late on August 9, the depression entered the eastern Carribean Sea. A strong high pressure ridge to the north of the cyclone produced a swift west-northwest motion, on the order of 20 to 24 knots. Environmental conditions were favorable, including low vertical wind shear, favorable upper-level outflow, and warm water temperatures. Because of the favorable atmospheric and oceanic conditions, the depression strengthened into Tropical Storm Charley early on August 10. Charley continued to intensify while moving west-northwest into the central Carribean Sea. When Charley approached Jamaica on August 11, it intensified into a hurricane. By this time, the cyclone had slowed its foward speed considerably, to 14 knots. Charley's center remained offshore Jamaica, passing 35 miles to the southwest of the southwestern coast of the island around 0000 UTC August 12. Charley then took a northwestward turn and headed for the Cayman Islands and Cuba. Charley continued to intensify during this time, reaching Category 2 status at around 1500 UTC August 12, just after passing 15 miles northeast of Grand Cayman.

As the hurricane neared the western periphery of the mid-tropospheric ridge, it turned to the north-northwest, with its center passing about 20 miles east of the Isle of Youth's eastern coast at 0000 August 13. At 0430 UTC August 13, Charley made landfall very near Playa del Cajio, Cuba. Charley was strengthening up to the point of landfall when it struck Cuba, and microwave imagery as well as Cuban radar indicated that Charley's eye shrunk before landfall, and surface observations also indicate that the hurricane made landfall as a 120 mph Category 3 hurricane. Operationally, Charley was thought to be a strong Category 2 hurricane with winds of 105 mph at its Cuban landfall. By 0600 UTC August 13, Charley emerged from the north coast of Cuba about 12 miles west of Havana. Based on reconnaissance aircraft data, Charley weakened slightly over the lower Straits of Florida. At this point, Charley turned to the north and passed over the Dry Tortugas as a high-end Category 2 hurricane with winds of 110 mph. By the time Charley had recahed the Dry Tortugas, it came under the influence of an unseasonably strong mid-tropospheric trough in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. As a result, it accelerated to the north-northeast because of the south-southwesterly flow on the southeastern side of the aforementioned trough. During this time of acceleration towards the southwestern coast of Florida, Charley began to rapidly intensify. By 1400 UTC August 13, Charley's winds had reached 130 mph, high-end Category 3. Just three hours later, Charley's winds reached 145 mph. Since the eye shrunk considerably in the 12 hours before landfall, the strongest winds were confined to a very small area -- within only about 6 miles of the center. Moving north-northeast at around 18 knots, Charley made landfall near Cayo Costa, Florida, just north of Captiva, at around 1945 UTC August 13 with winds of 150 mph. An hour later, Charley passed over the city of Punta Gorda in mainland Florida, and the eyewall of the cyclone struck that city as well as neighboring Port Charlotte with extreme damage.

Charley continued north-northeast after landfall, accelerating slightly faster as it crossed the Florida Peninsula. The center passed near Kissimmee and Orlando around 0130 UTC August 14, at which time Charley's winds had decreased to 85 mph, Category 1 force, due to land interaction. When the center moved off the coast near Daytona Beach at 0330 UTC August 14, Charley still carried sustained winds of 75 to 80 mph. Upon emerging into the Atlantic Ocean, Charley strengthened slightly as it continued its north-northeast acceleration. This intensification was temporary, however, and Charley made landfall near Cape Romain, South Carolina at around 1400 UTC August 14 as an 80 mph Category 1 hurricane. Charley then moved offshore for a brief time before making its fourth and final landfall at North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina at around 1600 UTC August 14, with sustained winds near 75 mph.

After landfall, Charley quickly weakened to a tropical storm over southeastern North Carolina, and the cyclone began to interact with a frontal zone associated with the same trough that recurved Charley towards Florida. By 0000 UTC August 15, as Charley's center was emerging back into the Atlantic Ocean near Virginia Beach, Virginia, synoptic data indicates that Charley became an extratropical cyclone. Charley's extratropical remnants accelerated north-northeast and northeast, and the remnants became indiscernable near southeastern Massachusetts just after 1200 UTC August 15.


Carribean Sea

On August 10, two days before Charley passed by the island, officials in Jamaica issued a Tropical Storm Warning. A day later, this was upgraded to a Hurricane Warning. The threat of Charley forced two airports to close on Jamaica, and also forced two cruise ships to reroute their destination. On August 11, the Cayman Islands issued a Hurricane Warning, which was a day before Charley passed through the area. Officials in Cuba issued a Hurricane Watch for the southern coastline on August 11, which was two days before Charley struck the country. On August 12, this watch was upgraded to a warning, 13 and a half hours before Charley made landfall in Cuba. Because of the threat from the hurricane, the government issued a mandatory evacuation for nearly 235,000 residents as well as 159,000 animals in the area of expected impact. An additional 3,800 residents were evacuated from the offshore islands, while 47,000 residents in Havana were moved from old, unsafe buildings to shelters, where they were provided with supplies. Also, the power grid in southern Cuba was turned off in order to avoid accidents.


On August 11, Florida Governor Jeb Bush declared a state of emergency for the state of Florida due to the threat Charley posed to the state, and even though it was still south of Jamaica at that time. The National Hurricane Center issued Hurricane Warnings for the Florida Keys and from Cape Sable to the mouth of the Suwannee River a day prior to Charley's passage through the state, while Tropical Storm Warnings were issued elsewhere throughout Florida. Due to the hurricane's threat, 1.9 million residents along Florida's west coast were urged to evacuate, which included 380,000 residents in the Tampa Bay area, and finally, it included 11,000 residents in the Florida Keys. It was the largest evacuation order in the history of Pinellas County, and the largest evacuation request in the state of Florida since Hurricane Floyd in 1999. Despite the evacuation order, many residents remained, as government officials estimated that up to 1,000,000 residents would not go into shelters; instead, these residents boarded up their homes and bought supplies in order to ride out the hurricane. Despite the large number of residents that stayed, about 1.42 million residents evacuated their homes in the state, and approximately 50,000 residents were placed in shelters throughout the state. Power companies mobilized workers to prepare for the expected widespread power outages. MacDill Air Force Base, the U.S. base for the Iraq War, severly limited its staff because of the hurricane. Similarly, Kennedy Space Center, which usually counts with 13,000 on-site personnel, significantly reduced its staff to only 200 people in preparation for Hurricane Charley. They also secured all space shuttles by sealing them securely in the hangars. Also, many amusement parks in the Orlando area closed early because of the hurricane, and Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom remained closed. This was only the second time in history that a Disney park was closed because of a hurricane, with the other time being during Hurricane Floyd. Charley also forced several cruise ships to reroute their destinations, and forced rail service between Miami and New York to shut down.

Charely's rapid intensification in the eastern Gulf of Mexico caught many people by surprise. Around five hours before its landfall, Charley was a Category 2 hurricane and was expected to make landfall in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area with winds of 115 mph, minimal Category 3 strength. About two hours before its landfall, the National Hurricane Center issued a special advisory, which indicated that Charley's maximum sustained winds had increased to 145 mph, strong Category 4 strength, and also that Charley was now predicted to make landfall near Port Charlotte. Due to this change in forecast track, many residents in Charlotte County were unprepared for Charley, in spite of the fact that the new forecast track was well within the previous forecast track's margin of error. NHC forecasting intern Robbie Berg publicly blamed the media for misleading residents into believing that a Tampa landfall was inevitable. In addition to that, he also stated that residents in Port Charlotte had ample time to prepare for the hurricane, as a Hurricane Warning had been issued 23 hours before landfall, and a Hurricane Watch 35 hours before.

Several local meteorologists in Florida did break with national news predictions of a Tampa Bay landfall as early as the morning of August 13. Robert Van Winkle of WBBH, Jim Reif of WZVN in Fort Myers, and Tom Terry of WFTV in Orlando, all broke with their national news forecasts, and around 11:00 AM EDT, stated that Charley was going to turn early, striking around Charlotte Harbor and moving Orlando. Ultimately, this was what the hurricane did.

Georgia and South Carolina

Following the hurricane's Florida landfall, Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue declared a state of emergency as a precaution against a 4-7 predicted storm surge as well as price gouging. In South Carolina, Governor Mark Sanford declared a state of emergency as the hurricane approached its final landfall. Two coastal counties in the state were forced to evacuate, as state troopers redirecting traffic further inland from Myrtle Beach. A total of 138,000 people evacuated from the Grand Strand area in South Carolina because of the threat from Hurricane Charley.


One death in Jamaica, four deaths in Cuba, and ten deaths in the United States were directly attributed to Hurricane Charley. In addition, numerous injuries were reported from the storm, and 20 indirect deaths also occured in the U.S. because of Charley. Total damage from Charley is estimated by the National Hurricane Center to be at $15,000,000,000 (2004 USD). At the time, this made Charley the second costliest hurricane in United States history, behind Hurricane Andrew of 1992, which caused $26.5 billion (1992 USD) in damage. Since 2004, Charley has dropped to the fourth costliest hurricane for the United States, due to the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Wilma of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season.

Carribean Sea

In Jamaica, strong winds caused moderate damage to the agricultural sector, with crop and livestock damage totaling to $1.44 million (2004 USD). As Charley traveled near the southwestern coast of Jamaica, it produced rain and wind damage. Damage was greatest in St. Elizabeth Parish, where 100 people had to be housed in six shelters. Also, strong winds downed trees and power lines, causing power outages as well as road blockages. Total damage in Jamaica from Hurricane Charley reached $4.1 million (2004 USD). Charley also killed one person in the country. Despite the close approach the Charley made to the Cayman Islands, the islands were mostly spared, and received little damage from the storm. Rainfall was light, peaking at 0.9 inches in Grand Cayman. Cayman Brac received tropical storm force winds from Charley.

Operationally, the National Hurricane Center estimated that Charley struck Cuba as a 105 mph Category 2 hurricane. However, post-season analysis indicated that Charley struck the country as a 120 mph Category 3 hurricane; this was due to a surface observation of a sustained wind of 118 mph in Playa Baracoa. In Playa Cajio, Charley produced a storm surge of 13.1 feet. Rainfall in Cuba was generally light, due to how quickly Charley moved through the country. The highest rainfall total in the country was 5.87 inches at Mariel. Strong wind gusts downed nearly 1,500 power lines and knocked over 28 large high tension wire towers at a power plant in Mariel. As a result, more than half of the electricity customers in Havana Province were left without power for 12 days after the storm, and all of Pinar del Río Province was without power for over 11 days. Blackouts continued in areas where power returned. The power outages caused a lack of drinking water for a number of people, including no portable water in Havana four days. As a result, the Cuban government sent water tanks to satisfy the short term need. There was also a lack of gas for cooking for over a week. Also, one Cuban government official stated that it could take up to two months for basic utlities to be returned to many isolated villages. Near the location of its landfall, Charley destroyed 290 of the 300 homes in the village, while over 70,000 homes were either damaged or destroyed in Havana. Also, numerous hotels received damage from the hurricane. Agricultural damage was significant, with Charley damaging more than 3,000 agricultural institutions. Citrus officials estimated a loss of 15,000 metric tons of grapefuit on the Isle of Youth, while strong winds ruined 66,000 metric tons of citrus trees in the Havana area. The hurricane also destroyed around 57,000 acres of fruit trees in the Havana area. Approximately 95% of the bean, banana, and sugar cane crops were affected in Cuba from the hurricane. In all, Charley killed four people in Cuba and also produced $923,000,000 (2004 USD) in damage in the country, mainly from agricultural losses.


Charley significantly affected the state of Florida. The hurricane caused 8 direct deaths, 16 direct deaths, and 792 injuries in the state. Charley also caused $5.4 billion (2004 USD) in property damage to the state, and approximately $285,000,000 (2004 USD) in agricultural damage to the state. Due to Charley crossing Florida in 7 hours as a result of its rapid foward speed, as well as its small size, rainfall along the eyewall was mostly limited to 4-6 inches.

While moving northward to the west of the Florida Keys, Charley produced sustained winds of 48 mph with gusts to 60 mph in Key West. The winds downed a few trees, power lines, and unreinforced signs. Also, a boat, knocked loose from high waves, struck a power transmission line, which caused widespread power outages from Marathon to Key West. On Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, Charley produced an estimated storm surge of 6 feet. The surge, combined with incoming waves, produced extensive flooding in the park and it also damaged numerous docks. Despite this, property damage in the area reached only $160,000 (2004 USD).

Charley passed directly over Captiva Island near Cayo Costa with maximum sustained winds of 150 mph. Charley produced an estimated storm surge of 6.5 feet on the island, which is lower than expected for a Category 4 hurricane; the decrease in size of the surge was due to the hurricane's extremely small size. Furthermore, the storm surge, combined with a strong pressure gradient produced a ¼ mi inlet on North Captiva Island, known as Charley's Cut. High waves as well as storm surge caused significant beach erosion and dune damage at various locations. Charley significantly damaged 5 homes, lightly damaged many others, and downed many trees on Gasparilla Island. At least half of the 300 homes on North Captiva Island were significantly damaged by the hurricane, including ten that were destroyed. On Captiva Island, strong winds produced by Charley severely damaged most houses, as well as several recreational buildings.

The city of Arcadia in DeSoto County saw significant damage from Charley, despite being a bit further inland from the coast. Around 95% of the buildings in the downtown area of the city were damaged to an extent, and the only shelter in the city had its roof torn off, which forced the 3,500 residents inside to ride out the hurricane's onslaught without roof protection. Also, Hardee County received $750,000,000 (2004 USD) in damage from Charley, along with six injuries, though no fatalities were reported in the county. Charley produced power outages in the entire county, and it caused damage to 3,600 homes and it destroyed 1,400. A radio tower near Sebring was knocked down by the hurricane, as were numerous trees and power lines along the north and east side of Highlands County. In addition, there were several reports of significantly damaged homes near Sebring and Avon Park. In Polk County, a 50 foot sinkhole swallowed a car along Florida State Road 60 near Bartow. Additionally, Bartow and Lake Wales had 23,000 buildings damaged from the hurricane, and also had 739 buildings destroyed. Seven deaths were reported in the county, with one of them being direct.

Throughout the rest of the islands in Sarasota, Lee, and Collier Counties, strong winds from Charley caused significant damage to hundreds of buildings as well as trees. Lee County received an 8 foot storm surge from the hurricane. These counties experienced Charley's eyewall and as a result, experienced the most damage from the storm. Because of its small size, the area of most extreme damage was located within a 10 mile centered on Charley's track, with additional heavy damage from an outer band extending 7.5 miles to each side of the inner swath of damage. In Charlotte County, 80% of buildings were destroyed by Charley. On mainland Florida, Charley produced a peak storm surge of 10–13 feet at Vanderbilt Beach near Naples, along with a much lower surge at its Punta Gorda landfall. Charley produced generally light rainfall across Florida, with a maximum amount of 9.88 inches occuring in Bud Slough in Sarasota County. At Punta Gorda's airport, where the hurricane made landfall, sustained winds of 90 mph with gusts to 111 mph were recorded before the anemometer was blown apart, along with most of the planes and the airport itself. The Charlotte County Medical Center recorded an unofficial wind gust of 172 mph. Port Charlotte's Saint Joseph Hospital had its roof blown off because of strong winds produced by Charley. Due to the small size of the hurricane, the radius of maximum winds only extended a short distance from the center of circulation. To compare, Fort Myers, which was only 25 miles from Charley made landfall, recieved sustained winds of only 61 mph, with gusts of 78 mph. In South Florida, Charley produced several tornadoes, including a long-lived F2 that struck Clewiston. In addition, five weak tornadoes were reported in the area where Charley made landfall.

The worst damage from Charley occured in Charlotte County. In Boca Grande, numerous houses experienced significant roof damage, while thousands of trees and power lines were uprooted or snapped. In Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda, many buildings, RVs, as well as mobile homes were completely destroyed. Also, trailer parks were destroyed as far as Orlando, and trees and utility poles were downed as far as Daytona Beach. Charley also caused considerable damage in central and eastern Florida, where several possibile tornadoes occured, along with severe thunderstorms during the duration of the storm. Sustained winds were estimated to be 80 mph near and to the north of Okeechobee, while winds at Orlando International Airport reached 105 mph in a gust. Charley caused 2,000,000 customers to lose power in Florida. In some areas, power was not restored for weeks: 136,000 residents had no electricity a weak after Charley had passed, and 22,000 customers, primarily from cooperatives, were still waiting for their power to be restored on August 26. Also, public schools in some of the counties in the path of the hurricane were scheduled to be closed for two weeks. In some areas this was necessary because the school buildings were either damaged or destroyed: all 59 of Osceola County's schools were damaged, and one-third of Charlotte County's were destroyed by Charley's impact. DeSoto County schools saw $6,000,000 (2004 USD) in damage, while Orange County Public Schools saw $9,000,000 (2004 USD) in damage to their educational infrastructure.

Charley also produced significant agricultural damage in Florida. Florida is the second-largest orange producer in the world, and it received $200,000,000 (2004 USD) in damage. As a result, grapefruit prices rose 50%. Charley, along with other storms that hit the state in 2005, caused a total agricultural loss of $2.2 million (2004 USD). Other crops, nurseries, buildings, and agricultural equipment also suffered because of the hurricane.

South Carolina

Upon making landfall in South Carolina, Charley produced a storm surge that was unofficially measured up to 7.19 feet in Myrtle Beach. Winds were moderate, with a gust of 60 mph reported in North Myrtle Beach, although there were several unofficial reports of wind gusts to hurricane force. Charley produced moderate rainfall along its path, peaking at over 7 inches. Also, moderately strong winds downed numerous trees. In Charleston County, flash flooding occured, which caused drainage problems. Total damage in South Carolina from Charley reached $20,000,000 (2004 USD).

North Carolina

Charley produced an estimated storm surge of 2 to 3 feet in North Carolina, along with waves as high as 8 feet, causing minor beach erosion. Wind gusts ranged from 60 to 70 mph, causing minor wind damage. Rainfall amounts in the state were moderate, ranging from 4 to 6 inches, but despite being only moderate, the rain still caused flooding across 7 counties in North Carolina. Charley spawned five weak tornadoes across the state, including an F1 that damaged 20 structures in Nags Head. Charley destroyed 40 homes and damaged 2,231, 231 severely, including 221 homes at Sunset Beach. Damage was greatest in Brunswick County, where wind gusts reached 85 mph. Crop damage was heavy in Brunswick County, with 50% of the tobacco crop lost and 30% of the corn and vegetable fields destroyed. Strong winds downed trees and power lines, leaving 65,000 people without electricity. Total damage in North Carolina from Charley reached $25,000,000 (2004 USD).

Virginia and Rhode Island

Charley, as a tropical storm, produced a wind gust of 72 mph at Chesapeake Light in Virginia, which caused scattered power outages. Rainfall was light, ranging from 2 to 3.7 inches. Charley produced one tornado in Chesapeake and one in Virginia Beach. Also, one man drowned from a rip current in Rhode Island.


Because of the extreme damage, the name Charley was retired in the Spring of 2005 by the World Meteorological Organization. It was replaced with Colin for the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season.


See also


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