Hurricane Erika was the fifth named storm, the third hurricane, and the first major hurricane of the inactive 1997 Atlantic hurricane season. Erika didn't form until well over a month after the previous storm did. Erika made it the first time since 1961 that there were no tropical cyclone formations during the month of August. Erika was also the longest-lasting tropical cyclone in the 1997 Atlantic hurricane season, and also the strongest. Erika was also the only major hurricane of the season. Erika came fairly close to the Lesser Antilles, but far away enough that it did not cause damage. Erika later turned north in response to an approaching trough. On September 8, Erika reached its peak strength of 125 mph winds and a pressure of 946 mb. As it passed over cooler waters, Erika began to weaken after keeping its peak strength for 24 hours. As it turned to the east, it weakened to a tropical storm. Erika became extratropical after passing near the Azores.
Even though Erika did come close enough to do significant damage to the Lesser Antilles, it did come close enough to produced light rainfall and light winds throughout the northern Lesser Antilles. Erika's passage carried a cloud of volcanic ash to Antigua, due to the eruption of the Soufrière Hills Volcano on Montserrat. This is a rare occurence. Also, strong waves generated by Erika caused beach erosion as well as coastal flooding in the northern part of Puerto Rico. Erika also caused the death of two surfers in Puerto Rico. Moderate wind gusts in Puerto Rico from Erika left thousands of residents without power. Erika caused $10,000,000 (1997 USD) in damage in the Carribean territory of the United States. Finally, Erika produced gusty winds in the Azores, as well as light rainfall. Also, Erika was the only tropical cyclone during the two month period of August and September, a very rare occurence. The last time this happened was in the 1929 Atlantic hurricane season.
|Formation||September 3, 1997|
|Dissipation||September 19, 1997|
|Highest winds||125 mph|
|Lowest pressure||946 mbar|
|Damages||$10,000,000 (1997 USD)|
|Areas affected||Lesser Antilles, Puerto Rico, Azores|
On August 31, a large tropical wave moved off the coast of Africa. Shortly after the wave left the coast, it had a large low-level circulation, although as the wave moved westward across the Atlantic Ocean, the circulation of the wave failed to contract significantly. Nevertheless, the wave slowly organized, and on September 3, the wave had enough convection within the circulation center to be classified as Tropical Depression Six, while located about 1150 miles east of the southernmost Lesser Antilles. Under the influence of a well-established subtropical ridge, the depression moved west-northwest at 20 mph. Late on September 3, the depression strengthened into Tropical Storm Erika. Erika continued to the west-northwest, and on September 4, an eye-like feature appeared to have developed in the center of the deepest convection. However, this feature was not an eye, as visible satellite imagery revealed a center of circulation that was partially exposed from the convection. This was due to strong upper-level wind shear over the system. Despite the unfavorable conditions, Erika became a hurricane late on September 4, located 530 miles east-southeast of Guadeloupe. Deep convection re-established itself over Erika's circulation center, and Erika continued moving west-northwest, slowly strengthening as it did so.
As Erika approached the Lesser Antilles, its foward speed lessened, and it passed within 85 miles of the islands a Category 1 hurricane. An approaching trough weakened the subtropical ridge, and this caused Erika to turn to the north, and later the northeast. On September 7, Erika quickly gained strength, and on September 8, Erika reached its peak strength of 125 mph winds and a pressure of 946 mb, while located 350 miles north of the Lesser Antilles. Erika maintained peak intensity for 24 hours before cooler waters began to weaken it. Erika passed about 350 miles east of Bermuda on September 10. Erika then turned east-northeast, in response to westerly steering currents. Erika weakened to a tropical storm on September 12, due to increased upper-level wind shear over the system. Erika turned to the east-southeast, and continued weakening as it did so, although it maintained deep convection near the center of circulation despite unfavorable upper-level conditions. On September 14, Erika turned to the northeast again, and it re-intensified to a strong tropical storm with 70 mph winds while located 510 miles west-southwest of the Azores. Erika passed near the western portion of the Azores on September 15, and quickly weakened, with deep convection diminishing near the center of circulation.
On September 16, just north of the Azores, Erika became an extratropical cyclone, and after executing a clockwise loop, it dissipated on September 19 about 230 miles southwest of Ireland.
Erika near the Lesser Antilles.
Early in its life, computer models had difficulty in forecasting where Erika would go; some brought Erika toward the Lesser Antilles, while some other models forecasted a more northerly motion, away from the Lesser Antilles. Because of the uncertainty, the government of Saint Martin issued a Tropical Storm Warning late on September 4. The next day, the governments of Antigua, Barbuda, Montserrat, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Dominica, Anguilla, Saint Barthelemy, and Guadeloupe issued Tropical Storm Warnings for their islands. When Erika's motion caused it to take a path that would bring it closer to the Lesser Antilles, all of the aforementioned islands upgraded their Tropical Storm Warnings to Hurricane Warnings, excluding the island of Guadeloupe. A Hurricane Watch was also issued for the British Isles and the United States Virgin Isles, and a Hurricane Watch was also issued for Puerto Rico. In public advisories, the National Hurricane Center stated that tropical storm-force conditions were likely in the Azores, with early forecasts posing a threat to Bermuda.
Also, the governments in the projected path of Erika urged residents to quickly prepare for Erika through radio addresses. Also, many citizens throughout the Lesser Antilles began preparing for the 1997 Atlantic hurricane season months before Erika developed. This preparedness including things such as installing hurricane shutters, and purchasing food supplies. Because numerous hurricanes affected the Lesser Antilles in both 1995 and 1996, the citizens of the Lesser Antilles executed a hurricane preparedness plan greater than usual for a mere Category 1 hurricane. In Puerto Rico, fisherman secured their boats in anticipation of Erika. Also on Puerto Rico, citizens formed long lines at gas stations, and they also purchased emergency supplies. Officials in Anguilla initiated a plan that would turn off the power supply to the island in the event that winds exceeded 50 mph.
Also, the government of Guadeloupe issued a Level 2 Storm Alert for the island, which recommended that all citizens remain in their homes. Also on Guadeloupe, officials closed the Pointe-à-Pitre International Airport. Also, as a precaution, authorities on Saint Martin initiated a curfew for all but those in service jobs. Finally, a cruise ship changed its course to avoid the island of Saint Thomas, because of the threat of Hurricane Erika.
Erika produced strong waves throughout the Lesser Antilles, with 10-12 foot waves occuring on the island of Saint Martin. On Saint Martin, those strong waves flooded roadways and damaged one building that was under construction near the coast. Erika's outer rainbands passed through the island, with rainfall totals of 1.91 inches reported on Saint Martin. Anguilla reported winds of 35 mph as well as some rainfall. Antigua reported over 2 inches of rain from Erika, as well as wind gusts as high as 32 mph. Erika's passage resulted in low-level southwesterly winds. Also, just weeks after the eruption of the Soufrière Hills Volcano on Montserrat, Erika produced a cloud of falling ash over Antigua. Officials considered closing schools on the southern portion of the island because of the falling ash, though because the wind changed direction, so did the ash, with the ash turning away from the island. This was the first recorded occurence of ash fall in Antigua from Montserrat.
Also, winds from Erika peaked at 37 mph, with gusts to 47 mph at Cyril E. King Airport on the island of Saint Thomas. Also, Erika's outer rainbands produced light to moderate rainfall across the Virgin Islands, with rainfall peaking at 3.28 inches at the University of the Virgin Islands on the island of Saint Thomas. 1.32 inches of rain fell in Saint John, as well. The rainfall caused localized street flooding, while the added bonus of wind and rain caused power outages. Offshore, high waves capsized one dinghy, and they also broke a 50-foot boat from its moorings. On the island of Saint Croix, Erika produced sustained winds of 25 mph, with gusts up to 29 mph at Henry E. Rohlsen International Airport. Rainfall on the island of Saint Croix was light, however, peaking only at 0.83 inches at Christiansted. Wind gusts downed a few power lines on the island. Overall, damage was minor.
Erika's outer rainbands passed over Puerto Rico, with those rainbands producing winds of 23 mph, and gusts as high as 42 mph at Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport. The strong wind gusts snapped tree branches onto power lines, leaving up to 12,000 people without power in San Juan, Guayanbo, and Bayamon. Rainfall in Puerto Rico was light, however, with Caguas reported a total peak rainfall amount of 0.77 inches. Also, Erika produced swells of 10-12 feet on Puerto Rico's northeastern coast, causing beach erosion and coastal flooding, with one road being closed when sections of it were flooded or washed out. Strong waves forced the evacuation of eight families on the northern portion of the island. Strong waves also killed two surfers along the northeastern portion of the island. Total damage in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands totaled to $10,000,000 (1997 USD) in a preliminary estimate.
A total of 31 ships came into contact with Erika from September 4, when it was a tropical storm, to September 18 when it was an extratropical cyclone. Two ships reported hurricane-force winds, with a peak wind report being 99 mph. Also, the lowest pressure recored by a ship was 1000.4 mb while located 105 miles from Erika's center when it was an extratropical cyclone. The lowest pressure recorded when Erika was a tropical cyclone was 1000.5 mb when a ship was located 190 miles from the center of the cyclone.
While passing near the Azores, Erika produced sustained winds of 30 mph at Lajes Field. The wind gusts, however, were much stronger, with an 87 mph wind gust being reported in Flores. In addition, Lajes reported a wind gust as high as 105 mph from a 200 foot tower. In Flores, Erika produced as much as 2.35 inches of rain, and Erika also produced rough seas throughout the archipelago. Finally, damage, if any, in the Azores, is unknown.
Lack of Retirement
Because damage was minimal, the name Erika was not retired in the Spring of 1998 by the World Meteorological Organization. It was used again in 2003, and is on the list of names to be used for the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season.