Hurricane Earl was the fifth named storm, and the third hurricane of the 1998 Atlantic hurricane season. Earl was a Category 2 hurricane that formed in the southern Gulf of Mexico, and moved to the northeast, making landfall on the Florida Panhandle near Panama City, Florida, as a Category 1 hurricane. After landfall, Earl moved northeast through Georgia, and all the way up to Nova Scotia. Earl was one of three hurricanes to make landfall during the 1998 Atlantic hurricane season, with the others being Hurricane Bonnie and Hurricane Georges. Also, Earl was the third hurricane to make landfall in the Florida Panhandle in three years, the others being Hurricane Erin and Hurricane Opal of 1995.

Earl killed 3 people, and caused $79,000,000 (1998 USD) in damage.

Hurricane Earl at peak intensity
Formation August 31, 1998
Dissipation September 8, 1998
Highest winds 100 mph
Lowest pressure 988 mbar
Deaths 2 direct, 1 indirect
Damages $79,000,000 (1998 USD)
Areas affected Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Atlantic Canada

Meteorological History

A strong tropical wave exited the coast of Africa on August 17. Persistent convection accompanied the wave as it moved westward across the Atlantic Ocean. A weak cyclonic circulation was suggested in satellite imagery animation, as well as in limited data from reconnaissance aircraft, and finally, data from islands that were affected in the Lesser Antilles on August 23 by the wave. Tropical storm formation was inhibited by strong upper-level wind shear as the wave moved through the Carribean Sea. These unfavorable upper-level winds were caused by the outflow of the powerful Hurricane Bonnie, which was to the north of the wave at the time. Despite the unfavorable shear, the wave was easily recognizable in satellite imagery, and was tracked into the Gulf of Mexico as cloudiness and convection increased along the wave axis, and it estimated that Tropical Depression Five developed over the southwest Gulf of Mexico miday between Merida and Tampico, Mexico, at 1200 UTC on August 31.

After forming, the depression strengthened into Tropical Storm Earl, while located 500 miles south-southwest of New Orleans, Louisiana near 1800 UTC on August 31. Earl's center of circulation remained difficult to locate on satellite imagery, with multiple circulation centers by reconnaissance aircraft for a couple of days after Earl formed. Occasionally, a new center of circulation would form, which would make tracking Earl all the more difficult. Based on reconnaissance aircraft data, Earl is estimated to have attained hurricane status at 1200 UTC on September 2, while located about 125 miles south-southeast of New Orleans. Despite being a hurricane, Earl never resembled the look of a classic hurricane. Instead, Earl looked more like a subtropical cyclone or an extratropical cyclone in satellite imagery, with the strongest convection of Earl being located primarily along the eastern quadrant of the storm, with reconnaissance aircraft indicating that the wind field with Earl was very asymmetrical, with the strongest winds located well east and southeast of the center of circulation.

Earl reached its peak intensity as a Category 2 hurricane with 100 mph winds a pressure of 988 mb on September 3. Shortly before landfall near Panama City, Florida, Earl weakened to a Category 1 hurricane. Because the strongest winds of Earl were located well east and southeast of the center of circulation, a high storm surge inundated the Big Bend area of Florida, despite Earl making landfall far to the west. Soon after landfall, Earl weakened to a tropical storm, then Earl became an extratropical cyclone while moving northeast through the state of Georgia, with Earl's strongest winds being well-removed from the center of circulation by this time, with the strongest winds being over the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. On September 4, Earl's extratropical remnants moved off the Mid-Atlantic coast of the United States, and Earl's extratropical remnants crossed over Nova Scotia on September 6.

The remnants of Earl were then tracked across the northern Atlantic Ocean until it was absorbed by another extratropical cyclone on September 8 that was formerly Hurricane Danielle.

Hurricane Earl (left) and Hurricane Danielle (right).


Earl forced the evacuations of many Florida residents, especially those living near the barrier islands that dot the Gulf Coast of Florida. Also, about 30 Air Force jets from Eglin Air Force Base were sent to Oklahoma because of the threat of Hurricane Earl. Officials posted Hurricane Watches and Hurricane Warnings from the Florida Gulf Coast all the way to the Tampa area, and also forced local residents to evacuate, many of whom had left during hurricanes Erin and Opal.


Earl killed 3 people and caused $79,000,000 (1998 USD) in damage, with most of that damaging occuring in the Florida Panhandle, where Earl made landfall.


The disturbance that spawned Earl passed through Mexico on August 29, with inflow bands to the south of Earl when it formed continuing to produce rainfall in Mexico until September 2. The highest rainfall amount reported in Mexico was 12.94 inches at Belizario Dominguez/Moto.


In Florida, where Earl made landfall, Earl produed a storm surge of about 2.5 meters high in the Big Bend area, due to its elongated wind field. Panama City picked up 12 inches of rain from Earl, and tornadoes were also reported in the state of Florida, one of which damaged 11 homes and 6 businesses in Brevard County. Earl sank two boats offshore, drowning two people. In Port St. Lucie, Earl destroyed portions of a seawall, and seven miles of Highway 98 was washed out by Earl's storm surge. At Shell Fish Island Camp, fifteen boats that were docked were tossed around and wrecked by Earl. Also, in Destin Harbor, strong underwater currents produced by Earl caused the oceanfloor to shift, which endangered several vessels for furture tropical cyclones.

Earl also destroyed several turtle nests, with 90% of the turtle eggs being destroyed, and in Gulf County, about 150 sea turtle eggs were destroyed by Earl. Also, the Florida Coast suffered significant beach erosion from Earl. Earl also detached a football field-sized island that floated 500 yards down the coast of Deer Point Lake before it became lodged along the banks of Cedar Creek. Residents were worried that the island might break loose again if another hurricane were to threaten, and it would drift into Deer Point Lake Dam. Finally, Earl washed away military ammunition onto beaches, with much of it dating back to World War II.

Southeastern United States

Earl produced a tornado outbreak across Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina, with one of those tornadoes killing a person in the city of St. Helena in the state of South Carolina, and with the remainder of the tornadoes spawned by Earl doing minimal damage. Four people were injured in Georgia when a tornado struck west of Savannah.

Atlantic Canada

As an extratropical cyclone Earl produced heavy rainfall and gale-force winds. No damage was reported in Atlantic Canada, however.

Lack of Retirement

Because damage was not extreme, Earl wasn't retired in the Spring of 1999 by the World Meteorological Organization. It was used again in 2004, and is on the list of names to be used for the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season.

See Also

1998 Atlantic hurricane season