Hurricane Fabian was the sixth named storm, fourth hurricane, and the first major hurricane of the 2003 Atlantic hurricane season. Fabian formed as a Cape Verde hurricane on August 25 while located 420 miles west of the Cape Verde Islands. Fabian moved west-northwest before taking a sharp northwest, then northeasterly turn and going out to sea. Despite the recurvature, Fabian managed to hit Bermuda with its eastern eyewall as a Category 3 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, causing considerable damage. Fabian became the strongest hurricane to hit the island since Hurricane Arlene of 1963. Fabian was also the most damaging hurricane on the island since 1926, and the first hurricane to cause a death on that island since the aforementioned year. Fabian became extratropical on September 8.

Fabian near the Leeward Islands
FormationAugust 25, 2003
Dissipation September 8, 2003
Highest winds 145 mph
Lowest pressure 939 mbar
Deaths 8 direct
Damages $300,000,000 (2003 USD)
Areas affectedPuerto Rico, Dominican Republic, East Coast of the United States, Bermuda, Atlantic Canada
Part of the 2003 Atlantic hurricane season

Meteorological History


A tropical wave moved off the coast of Africa on August 25. The wave moved westward across the Atlantic Ocean, developing convection as it did so. It passed south of the Cape Verde Islands later that day, and convection steadily weakened during this time. Early on August 27, convection once again became established over the wave, and late on August 27, the wave strengthened into Tropical Depression Ten while located 420 miles west of the Cape Verde Islands. After forming, the depression continued westward and moved into an area of warm water temperatures and low vertical wind shear, which allowed it to continue strengthening. The depression strengthened into Tropical Storm Fabian on August 28, as convection and banding features became more well-defined. Fabian continued to develop banding features and outflow as a ring of deep convection developed over Fabian's center. On August 30, Fabian intensified into a hurricane. During this time, the hurricane's motion slowed and it began to move west-northwest. As banding features and outflow became better defined within the cyclone, an eye developed in the center of the deepest convection associated with Fabian. At this point, Fabian began to rapidly intensify, becoming a major hurricane late on August 30. Deep convection became very concentric around the 11.5 mile wide eye associated with the cyclone, and Fabian's winds reached 125 mph early on August 31 as a result. At this time, however, the deep convection near the eye degraded in appearance, as the cyclone temporarily stopped its strengthening trend. Later that day, however, the eye became distinct again within a symmetrical area of deep convection. Late on August 31, as outflow began to increase in all quadrants of the storm, Fabian attained Category 4 status.

Convection in the eyewall became much stronger, and, at the same time, outflow became more symmetrical. On September 1, Fabian reached its peak intensity of 145 mph while located 345 miles east of the northern Lesser Antilles. After maintaining peak intensity for 12 hours, Fabian weakened due to internal fluctuations. On September 2, Fabian turned northwest in response to a weakness in the subtropical ridge caused by a mid-level circulation located over the southwestern Atlantic Ocean. After weakening back to a Category 3 hurricane, Fabian briefly re-intensified into a Category 4 hurricane on September 4. Fabian began to accelerate northward towards Bermuda in response to an approaching mid-level trough, weakening as it did so.


Hurricane Fabian south of Bermuda as a major hurricane.

Fabian continued to weaken as small pockets of dry air became entrained into the circulation center. On September 5, Fabian passed 14 miles west of Bermuda as a Category 3 hurricane with 115 mph winds. Fabian's eastern eyewall moved over the island, even though the cyclone technically did not make landfall, which resulted in a direct hit for Bermuda. After passing Bermuda, Fabian accelerated to the northeast, weakening to a 105 mph Category 2 hurricane on September 7. Fabian continued to weaken as it moved into an area of higher shear, drier air, and cooler water temperatures. Fabian became an extratropical cyclone on September 8 while located 680 miles east-northeast of Cape Race, Newfoundland. Fabian's extratropical remnants turned north on September 9, and on September 10, Fabian's remnants merged with another extratropical cyclone while Fabian was located between Greenland and Iceland.


Several days before Fabian hit Bermuda, computer models predicted that a ridge would build north of the cyclone and force it on a path 200 miles west of the island. Not expected to be a direct threat to the island, the Bermuda Weather Serivce forecast that gusty winds and heavy rainfall would impact the island. Each successive advisory issued brought Fabian closer and closer to Bermuda. 35 hours before the storm approached, the Bermuda Weather Service issued a Hurricane Watch for the island. When a track towards Bermuda became more certain, a Hurricane Warning was issued for the island approximately 29 hours before Fabian struck the island.

The Bermuda Electric Light Company recommended Bermuda residents to buy hurricane supplies such as candles, batteries, and non-perishable foods, to fill bathtubs and extra containers with water, and fill gasoline tanks for automobiles. In order to prepare for the hurricane, residents formed long lines at gas stations, banks, as well as supermarkets. In addition, all government offices as well as many businesses were closed the day prior to Fabian's arrival. All schools on the island were closed, and all flights in and out of the island were cancelled. Officials on the island opened emergency shelters, and they also recommended 2,000 people in low-lying areas to evacuate; a hotel on the south side of the island was also evacuated. Several cruise ships that were expected to remain on the island left early in order to avoid the hurricane. Local insurance companies on Bermuda experienced a significant increase in business, as residents renewed lapsed policies or signed up for new policies for homes and businesses, although marine policies were stopped several days before Fabian struck the island. Also, Fabian's arrival forced the delay of several sports events, which included a cricket match, a football game, and a dinghy race.


Throughout its path, Hurricane Fabian killed 8 people, all directly. It also caused $300,000,000 (2003 USD) in damage, primarily in Bermuda.

Carribean Sea

Fabian produced storm surge in Antigua and Barbuda, where some boats were lightly damaged. Also, strong swells and high tides produced large waves along the north coast of Puerto Rico, which washed out beaches in various locations. In addition, waves knocked out a 10 foot portion of a construction site in Ocean Park, which produced $30,000 (2003 USD) in damage. In the Dominican Republic, Fabian produced waves as high as 8 feet. Due to gusty winds and high waves, boats were advised to stay at port. Also, several families had to be evacuated from Nagua when rough seas flooded their homes.



Hurricane Fabian near Bermuda.


A home at John Smith's Bay during Fabian's approach.

Fabian produced 10-minute average sustained winds of 120 mph, with a gust of 164 mph at Bermuda Harbour Radio. The strongest winds of the hurricane lasted approximately three to four hours on the island, and while the eastern eyewall moved across the island, winds decreased to 60 mph. High waves battered the southern portion of the island for several days, and the waves reached 25 to 35 feet during the height of the storm. Upon passing the island, Fabian produced a storm surge of 11 feet. Due to its fast foward speed, however, rainfall was minimal, and reached 1.82 inches on the island. Also, there were several unofficial reports of tornadoes on the island. Also, strong rip currents persisted for several days prior to Fabian's passage across the island; two swimmers got caught in the rip currents and relied on lifeguard assistance to return to the shore. As a result of the strong rip currents, rip tide warnings were put into effect for the island. High waves produced extensive damage on the island, especially along the southern portion. The high waves broke a boat from its moorings at Spanish Point. The owner, not wanting to lose the ship, was accompanied by two people and he and the aforementioned people attempted to save the vessel. One person fell overboard before climbing atop the boat. The crew ventured the vessel through tornadoes and waves as high as 20 feet, which dropped several feet of water into the ship. The crew ultimately returned safely to Hamilton Harbour. Five charter boats capsized from the high waves produced by the hurricane, while several others crashed against reefs. Also, high waves collapsed a seawall at Hamilton, which caused traffic jams for one day until it was fixed.

Strong winds produced by Fabian downed numerous power lines, causing 78% of the island's 32,031 power customers to lose electricity via power outages. The strong winds damaged or destroyed the roofs of numerous buildings on the island. One of the lightest hit areas on the island was a hotel outside of Hamilton that experienced no blown out windows or roof damage. One of the harder hit areas on the island was Warwick. There, one resident noted, "Too many homes have lost roofs to count". One home was entirely destroyed on Rec View Hill, and an unconfirmed tornado destroyed much of the roof of a house located in Devonshire. The hurricane destroyed a restaurant in Southampton and also damaged stands and roofs at sports facilities. Strong winds from the hurricane damaged several landmark buildings, including the House of Assembly and the City Hall, both in Hamilton, and the former military headquarters in St. George's. Bermuda International Airport experienced $15,000,000 (2003 USD) in damage from the hurricane, primarily to buildings and roadways which were washed away by the cyclone's storm surge.


A damaged terminal at the Bermuda International Airport.


Structural damage at the Bermuda International Airport.


A road washed out at the Bermuda International Airport.

The runway escaped major damage, however, and the airport re-opened the following day for emergency relief flights. Commercial airline service was suspended for three days due to heavy damage to the Terminal Building, which was flooded with 3 feet of seawater. The airport's ILS and radar were also damaged.

The hurricane also affected the Bermuda Weather Service, as 8 foot waves destroyed recording equipment. The winds severely damaged the island's major hotels, which caused the of closing five of the hotels for extended periods to repair the damage. One hotel that remained open experienced damage to 25% of its rooms. The strong winds uprooted hundreds of trees along the island's golf courses, though little damage was reported at most courses. One course experienced significant damage at its club house, temporarily closing it. The strong blew over hundreds of trees on the island, which caused severe damage to vegetation, and also destroyed many of the island's indigenous plants. Fabian washed away large sections of the nesting island for the endangered Bermuda Petrel and destroyed 10 of the 70 active nests. However, the endangered birds were not on the island, although local residents quickly gathered in order to restore their habitat. High waves produced significant beach erosion, and at one beach, the lack of sand destroyed a natural cove. The Natural Arches, a set of eroded stones resembling an arch that was popular in photographs, was destroyed by the high waves produced by Hurricane Fabian. The strong winds from the cyclone knocked coconuts off of several trees and scattered them across the ground.

Storm surge from the hurricane stranded one vehicle with three police officers and also stranded another vehicle with a resident on the causeway between St. George's Parish and St. David's Island. After a fire truck failed to rescue them, high waves washed the vehicles into Castle Harbour. The United States Coast Guard as well as Bermuda police divers mounted a full-scale search for the missing people during the worst of the hurricane. The high winds as well as the emotional issues of searching for the missing people made the search difficult. Ultimately, the vehicles, along with one dead body, were recovered, with the other people missing, presumably dead. Also, another vehicle was on the causeway as the two cars became stranded, but the driver of that vehicle was able to safely cross the causeway. Strong winds as well as high surf tore off the causeway's side walls and greatly damaged the structure, which temporarily closed it to automobile traffic.

Because most residents were well-prepared for the hurricane, there were only 4 deaths on the island. Also, nine people sought medical attention for minor injuries. Total damage on Bermuda from Hurricane Fabian reached $300,000,000 (2003 USD), and Fabian was reportedly the worst hurricane to affect the island since a hurricane during the 1926 Atlantic hurricane season.


Damage in Bermuda from Hurricane Fabian.

East Coast of the United States

Swells produced by the hurricane caused rip currents and high surf along the eastern North Carolina coast. One man drowned near Cape Hatteras from the rip currents. Fabian produced moderately high surf along the East Coast of the United States, mainly from Georgia to North Carolina. Also, three people were killed in the North Atlantic, when a ship called The Pacific Attitude, sunk south of Newfoundland in the Grand Banks due to high waves of over 60 feet.


Because of the damage, the name Fabian was retired in the Spring of 2004 by the World Meteorological Organization. It was replaced with Fred for the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season.

See Also

2003 Atlantic hurricane season


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