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Hurricane Gaston was the seventh named storm and fifth hurricane of the 2004 Atlantic hurricane season. Gaston formed on August 26 to the east-southeast of Charleston, South Carolina. Gaston moved slowly south, west, and the north, making landfall in South Carolina late on September 29. Gaston then moved northeast, regained tropical storm status over Virginia, and continued northeastward into the Atlantic Ocean, where it accelerated and became extratropical on September 1. Gaston caused significant flooding in the Mid-Atlantic States.

Gaston caused $120,000,000 (2004 USD) in damage and killed 9 people; 8 direct, 1 indirect.

Gaston making landfall on August 29
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FormationAugust 26, 2004
Dissipation September 3, 2004
Highest winds 75 mph
Lowest pressure 986 mbar
Deaths 8 direct, 1 indirect
Damages $130,000,000 (2004 USD)
Areas affectedSouth Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Massachusetts
Part of the 2004 Atlantic hurricane season

Meteorological history

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Gaston originated from a cold front that moved off the Carolinas and into the Atlantic Ocean on August 22. The front drifted to the south the following day before it stalled on August 24. Surface observations indicate that a broad low-pressure area formed along the weakening front on August 25. Convection associated with the low remained disorganized and sporadic until late on August 26, when the convection began to increase and acquire a more banded structure. Early morning visible satellite imagery as well as microwave satellite imagery on August 27 suggest that the low developed into Tropical Depression Seven at 1200 UTC that day while located about 115 miles east-southeast of Charleston, South Carolina. It should be noted that the cold front that spawned Gaston also spawned Tropical Storm Hermine two days later. After the depression formed, steering currents were very weak, and the depression drifted to the south as a result. Convective banding continued to increase on August 27, and the depression slowly strengthened, becoming Tropical Storm Gaston early on August 28 as it began a westward drift about 130 miles southeast of Charleston, South Carolina. Gaston continued to strengthen, and the first reconnaissance flight into the cyclone indicated that Gaston had maximum flight-level winds of 59 knots shortly after 1800 UTC August 28. Early on August 29, steering currents became more established, with the development of a mid- to upper-level ridge northeast of Gaston as well as the approach of a mid-latitude trough into the Appalachians. This steering pattern allowed Gaston to begin moving northwest towards the South Carolina coast, and the foward speed of Gaston increased from 3 to 7 knots between 0000 UTC and 1200 UTC August 29.

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Satellite image of Gaston (left) and Hermine (right).

Doppler radar as well as satellite imagery showed that Gaston continued to become better organized as it approached the coast. Doppler radar observations indicate that Gaston attained hurricane status just before making landfall near Awendaw, South Carolina around 1400 UTC August 29 with winds of 75 mph.

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Radar image of Gaston over South Carolina after landfall.

After landfall, Gaston steadily weakened while moving to the north over northeastern South Carolina. At 0000 UTC August 30, Gaston weakened to a tropical depression over northeastern South Carolina. Gaston then turned north-northeastward ahead of the approaching mid-latitude trough moving into the East Coast of the United States. During the day on August 30, Gaston crossed over eastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia. Data from the Chesapeake Light C-MAN site as well as a ship near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay indicate that Gaston regained tropical storm status at 0000 UTC August 31 while still located inland near Yorktown, Virginia. At this time, tropical storm force winds were confined to a small area over water southeast of the circulation center, but Gaston's primary impact in Virginia was flooding from the 6-12 inches of rain that it produced in the state over an 8-hour period. Gaston moved across the southern portion of the Chesapeake Bay and it crossed the Delmarva Peninsula shortly before 0600 UTC August 31. Gaston then accelerated to the northeast and it passed about 60 miles south of Nantucket Island, Massaschusetts later that day. Gaston re-intensified slightly as it continued to accelerate to the east-northeast, and it became an extratropical cyclone at 1200 UTC September 1 south of the Canadian Maritimes. Gaston's extratropical remnants were absorbed by a larger extratropical cyclone on September 3 about 750 miles south-southeast of Reykjavik, Iceland.

Preparations

South Carolina

Shortly after Gaston formed, the National Hurricane Center issued a Tropical Storm Watch for the South Carolina coastline. On August 28, the watch was changed to a Hurricane Watch and even a Hurricane Warning in some locations. Due to the warnings, residents evacuated from low-lying areas as well as mobile homes along the coast. Initially, officials suggested that the storm would only cause minimal flood damage because it was accelerating as it moved closer to the coast.

Virginia

In Virginia, many officials assumed Gaston would rapidly dissipate after it made landfall because it was weak, and many computer models predicted Gaston would only bring showers to the state.

Impact

Gaston caused $130,000,000 (2004 USD) in damage, and it also killed 8 people directly, as well as one indirectly. These deaths were mainly due to flooding.

South Carolina

In South Carolina, where Gaston made landfall, the storm caused major freshwater flooding. In Berkeley County, 20 buildings were severely damaged or destroyed by the hurricane. In addition, a dozen other structures received minor damage from the storm. In Charleston, 10 inches of rain fell and 125,000 people lost power because of Gaston. There were reports of tree damage from McClellanville to Charleston. Also, a tornado was reported in Marlboro County from the storm. Elsewhere in the state, up to 5 inches of rain fell in Williamsburg, Florence, and Darlington Counties, and the rainfall caused flash flooding in Darlington County. In Myrtle Beach, a wind gust of 58 mph was reported, and the hurricane also caused moderate beach erosion.

North Carolina

In North Carolina, Gaston produced heavy rainfall over the central portion of the state as it moved inland, with rainfall totals being as high as 6.21 inches. Also, a tornado spawned by the cyclone damaged several homes in Hoke County. In Chatham County, strong winds damaged a post office and knocked down several trees. In Wake County, rainfall produced by Gaston caused Marsh Creek to overflow its banks, which caused moderate street flooding. The flooding also shut down Interstate 40. In Johnston County, water as high as 2 feet was reported and Interstate 95 was flooded with 6 inches of water. Flooding was also reported in Person County, where over a dozen roads were closed due to the rising waters. Also, four roads outside of the town of Roxboro were completely flooded by the storm. In Elizabeth City, two golfers were injured when they were struck by lightning.

Virginia

Gaston produced torrential rainfall in central Virginia, with the city of Richmond receiving the highest rainfall total from the storm. The Shockoe Bottom area was hardest hit by the storm, as 14 inches of rain fell in less than 24 hours. This extreme rainfall caused flash flooding that washed away vehicles and swamped buildings. Elsewhere in the state, floodwaters washed out Meadowbridge Road as well as large sections of U.S. Route 301. Also, southbound Interstate 95 as closed as a result of mudslides that the storm produced. The mudslide knocked out a 300-foot section of Jersey barriers. In other parts of the state, there were a few tornadoes produced by the storm, with one of the tornadoes damaging several units at the Petersburg National Battlefield. Gaston produced what the local newspapers called a "5,900 year rainfall". During the height of the storm, the James River was 10 feet above flood stage. The floodwaters overwhelmed many of the storm drains, while power outages left most pumping stations inoperative. Rainfall from Gaston caused the Chickahominy River to crest above flood stage. The flood swamped businesses and closed several roads. In New Kent County, the floods damaged a campground, while further downstream the flooding damaged a transformer, leaving several thousand people without electricity. Because there were no flood gauges for the Chickahominy River, the flooding was unpredictable. Elsewhere in the state, Gaston left 180 roads impassable. In Hampton Roads, several tornadoes caused tree damage as well as roof damage. Also, in the Church Hill section, a significant sinkhole formed and threatened nearby houses. Many residents in the city of Richmond were caught unaware when the flooding occured and were trapped inside the floodwaters as a result. Some people were trapped in flooded automobiles, and a transit bus with three passengers became inundated with floodwaters -- its internal cameras showed vehicles floating past as well as rescuers taking passengers off the bus. Also, another widely seen incident involved a motorist being swept away in her car, which came to a halt at a fence during the flood. The woman was able to signal nearby rescuers with the use of a flashlight.

While moving inland, Gaston's heavy rains caused flash flooding that devastated the Shockoe Bottom district as well as inundated areas of New Kent and Charles City Counties. The flooding in Virginia from Gaston was the worst seen in the state since Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

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A landslide in Virginia produced by Gaston's heavy rainfall.

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Another landslide in Virginia produced by Gaston.

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Rainfall totals from Hurricane Gaston.

Atlantic Canada

Sable Island picked up 2.83 inches of rain from the storm in a 35 hour period, although no damage, injuries, or fatalities were reported there because of Gaston.

Unpredictability

From the start, Gaston was a difficult storm to predict. Both the Hydrometeorological Prediction Center as well as the NCEP North American Mesoscale models predicted that the cyclone would produce only an inch of rain after its South Carolina landfall. After Gaston had made landfall, many computer models indicated that it would weaken and dissipate, but it instead re-strengthened into a tropical storm over southeastern Virginia.

Lack of Retirement

In spite of the damage, the name Gaston was not retired in the Spring of 2005 by the World Meteorological Organization. It is on the list of names to be used for the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season.

See Also

2004 Atlantic hurricane season

References

http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/2004gaston.shtml

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurricane_Gaston_%282004%29

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