Hurricane Georges was the seventh storm, the fourth hurricane, and the second major hurricane of the 1998 Atlantic hurricane season. Georges was a strong Category 4 hurricane with 155 mph winds at its peak, just 1 mph shy of reaching Category 5 intensity. Georges made seven landfalls throughout its long lifetime through the Carribean Sea and Gulf of Mexico. Georges was the second most destructive storm of the 1998 season, the other being Hurricane Mitch. Georges affected at least six different countries -- Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and finally the United States. This amount of affected areas is greater than any other tropical cyclone on record in the Atlantic basin since 1966's Hurricane Inez. Georges was also the only other tropical cyclone on record in the Atlantic basin to affect so much countries until Hurricane Wilma of 2005 affected ten different countries throughout its lifetime.
Georges killed 603 people, and caused nearly $6,000,000,000 (1998 USD) in damage, mostly in Puerto Rico and Hispaniola.
|Formation||September 15, 1998|
|Dissipation||September 29, 1998|
|Highest winds||155 mph|
|Lowest pressure||937 mbar|
|Damages||$5.9 billion (1998 USD)|
|Areas affected||Leeward Islands, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba, Florida Keys, Mississippi, Alabama|
A tropical wave exited the coast of Africa on September 13. The system moved westward across the Atlantic Ocean, and quickly developed a closed surface circulation, and by September 15, the wave was classified as Tropical Depression Seven. After forming, the depression moved west-northwest, due to a strong upper-level ridge. The depression strengthened into Tropical Storm Georges on September 16. Georges developed banding features around a well-organized Central Dense Overcast. With the aid of a developing anticyclone aloft, Georges strengthened into a hurricane late on September 17.After Georges became a hurricane, upper-level atmospheric conditions became nearly ideal for continued strengthening, including warm water temperatures, good upper-level outflow, and good low-level inflow to the north of Georges. Georges rapidly intensified because of the ideal conditions, becoming a major hurricane on September 19 while located 675 miles east-southeast of the island of Antigua. The rapid intensification continued, and on September 20, Georges strengthened to reach its peak of 155 mph as a strong Category 4 hurricane, just 1 mph shy of Category 5 intensity. At this time, the pressure of Georges fell to 937 mb.
Shortly after reaching its peak intensity, Georges weakened as it approached the Leeward Islands, due to strong upper-level wind shear brought onto the hurricane by an upper-level low. Nevertheless, Georges made landfall on Antigua and St. Kitts on September 21 as a Category 3 hurricane, though because Georges was so large, its wind field affected many other islands.
Infrared satellite image of Georges as a Category 3 hurricane.
Georges weakened further after landfall, down to a Category 2 hurricane. As upper-level shear decreased, Georges re-strengthened to a Category 3 hurricane with 115 mph winds before making landfall near Fajardo, Puerto Rico. Georges weakened to a Category 2 hurricane again after landfall in Puerto Rico, due to the mountainous terrain of the country. Georges re-strengthened to a Category 3 hurricane with 120 mph winds once over the Mona Passage, and struck the Dominican Republic at that intensity on September 22. Georges weakened considerably after landfall because of the mountainous terrain of the Dominican Republic, weakening back to a Category 1 hurricane.
As Georges crossed the Windward Passage, it struck 30 miles to the east of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba on September 23 as a Category 1 hurricane. With well-defined upper level outflow, Georges remained well-organized throughout its passage over Cuba, and while paralleling the northern coast of Cuba, Georges maintained minimal hurricane status. On September 24, Georges reached the Straits of Florida, and Georges quickly re-strengthened to a Category 2 hurricane on September 25, because of warm water temperatures and low upper-level wind shear. Georges moved west-northwest, and struck near Key West, Florida on September 25 with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph. Despite being over the warm water of the Gulf of Mexico, Georges only managed to re-strengthen to a 110 mph Category 2 hurricane, 1 mph shy of major hurricane status; this was likely due to its disrupted inner core. A mid-tropospheric anticyclone steered Georges to the north-northwest, and Georges made its seventh and final landfall near Biloxi, Mississippi on September 28 as a Category 2 hurricane with 110 mph winds, 1 mph shy of Category 3 status.
Georges making landfall in Biloxi, Mississippi on September 28.
On September 29, Georges weakened to a tropical depression, and because of weak steering currents, Georges looped over southern Mississippi, then drifted to the east.
The weak circulation moved east over the interior of the Florida Panhandle, and Georges's remnants dissipated on October 1 near the Florida/Georgia border.
A few days prior to Georges's arrival in the country, officials in Puerto Rico prepared for the hurricane by boarding up their windows, as well as purchasing supplies. Puerto Rican governor Pedro Rosselló activated the island's National Guard, opened 416 shelters, and enacted a temporary prohibition on alcohol sales. Also, more than 28,000 people in the country evacuated their homes and moved to shelters in the northern portion of the country. Also, both FEMA and the American Red Cross deployed workers there with supplies incase of a deadly event. 37 hours prior to the hurricane's arrival, the National Hurricane Center issued Hurricane Warnings.
Dominican Republic and Haiti
Because of initial forecasts predicting Georges to brush the northern portion of the island, the Dominican Republic was caught off guard by the hurricane, since Georges made landfall in the Dominican Republic, and passed close to the capitol city of Santo Domingo. Also, neighboring Haiti expected the worst from Georges, opening shelters as well as evacuating people from low-lying areas.
Prior to the landfall of Georges, more than 200,000 people were evacuated from the coastal sections of eastern Cuba. Along the potentially impacted area, Cuba's revolutionary army was sent to farmlands to harvest crops that could be destroyed during the hurricane. Also, members of the Cuban government traveled from door-to-door in order to alert everyone of Georges. In addition, Cuban president Fidel Castro spoke live on national television to explain why Cuba's plan to withstand Hurricane Georges, and also ensuring a quick recovery effort by using all of Cuba's resources. 30½ hours prior to Georges's landfall in the country, the Cuban government issued Hurricane Warnings.
Initally, Georges was expected to strike southeastern Florida. This caused over 1.2 million people to evacuate, including much of the Florida Keys. Also, despite the mandatory evacuation orders issued, 20,000 people, including over 7,000 Key West residents, refused to leave. Some of those who remained to ride out the hurricane were shrimpers, whose boats were their entire livelihood. Also, insurance companies refused to insure some of the older shrimp boats; this left shrimpers to ride out the hurricane with all they had left. Due to the lack of law enforcement, those who stayed in Key West ran red lights, double-parked, and also disobeyed traffic laws. Also, long-time residents of the Florida Keys noted the solitude of the time and enjoyed the island for how it once was, rather than the large crowd of tourists usually there.
Also, in the days before Georges's landfall, only 22% of the population in evacuation areas along the Florida Panhandle actually left. However, most of the people that did stay were prepared to leave if the situation became worse. The people who did leave were concerned about the severity of the hurricane, while those who stayed felt their home was safe enough to withstand Georges. Most of the residents along the Florida Panhandle who did evacuate simply went to a relative's house or a friend's house in the same county.
Initially, Georges was forecast to re-strengthen to a major hurricane over the Gulf of Mexico, and strike southeastern Louisiana as a major hurricane. Because of the threat from Georges, portions of Louisiana, including New Orleans, were evacuated. In New Orleans, the Louisiana Superdome was, for the first time in its history, used as a shelter of last resort for residents that were unable to leave the city of New Orleans. More than 14,000 residents rode out the hurricane in the Superdome, which caused difficulties to supply necessities. Fortunately, the Superdome wasn't unscathed from Georges, though evacuees looted the Superdome, stole furniture, as well as damaged property. The damage from Georges in New Orleans was much less than the horrific damage wrought by the powerful Hurricane Katrina.
In Mississippi, many citizens in the southern part of the state were told to leave, due to a mandatory evacuation order or a voluntary evacuation order. Only 60% of those in the evacuation area actually left. Most of the people who stayed decided to stay because they believed their house would be safe enough to withstand the hurricane. Of those who left, most of them went to a relative's house or a friend's house located within their own county.
Prior to Georges's eventual landfall along the Gulf Coast, the track Georges would take was very uncertain. Because of this, mandatory evacuation orders were issued for Alabama's two coastal counties, Baldwin County and Mobile County, with a combined population of over 500,000 people. Despite the evacuation order, only 67% of the evacuation area actually left and went to a safer location. Like in Mississippi, most of those who remained stayed because they believed their house to be safe enough to withstand Georges. Most of the people who did leave went to a relative's house or a friend's house in the same county.
Georges produced torrential rainfall and mudslides throughout much of its path through the Greater Antilles. Georges caused $5.9 billion (1998 USD) in damage altogether, and Georges killed 603 people. Two months after Georges's final landfall in Biloxi, Mississippi, the American Red Cross spent $104,000,000 (1998 USD) on relief aid for Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, making Georges the costliest disaster aid in the program's 125-year history.
Georges brought strong winds and heavy rainfall throughout its path through the Lesser Antilles. In St. John, a rainfall total of 7.5 inches was reported. In Antigua, strong winds produced by the hurricane caused severe property damage, mostly due to roof damage. 10-20% of the houses on Antigua were greatly impacted by the hurricane, including three schools. Also, the high winds from the hurricane downed power lines and telephone lines, which caused loss of power and communications throughout much of Antigua. Between Barbuda and Antigua, Georges killed 2 people and left 3,800 people homeless.
After passing through Antigua, Georges passed through St. Kitts, producing sustained winds as high as 115 mph. This downed power lines, telephone lines, and trees across St. Kitts. The lack of electricity also caused damage to water facilities. The high winds from Georges caused extensive property damage, damaging 80-85% of the homes on the island, and destroyed 20-25% of the homes on the island. Also, many schools, businesses, hospitals, and government buildings lost their roofs due to Georges. Also, the St. Kitts airport suffered significant damage to its main terminal and control tower, which limited flights to the daytime only. Also, the economy of St. Kitts was disrupted from severe agricultural losses, including the devastation of 50% of their sugar crop. In addition, hotels and piers created a long-term impact because of the lack of tourism. Since St. Kitts relies on tourism for its economy, this severely hurt the island. In total, Georges caused $445,000,000 (1998 USD) in damage on St. Kitts, killed 5 people, and left 3,000 homeless.
In the other part of the country, Nevis fared much better through Georges. Like in St. Kitts, strong winds downed power lines and telephone lines, which damaged the water system Nevis has. 35% of the homes on the island were damaged by the hurricane, though thankfully none were destroyed. Rainfall and debris killed several hundred livestock and it also seriously damaged coconut trees, bringing the damage total to $2.5 million (1998 USD) in agricultural losses. Georges killed no one on Nevis, and damage was only $39,000,000 (1998 USD). In other islands throughout the Leeward Islands, damage was relatively minor. Power outages, flooding, as well as minor to moderate structural damage was common in the rest of the Leeward Islands.
In Puerto Rico, Georges made landfall, producing a 10-foot storm surge as it did so, as well 20 foot waves on top of it. Also, Georges produced two tornadoes on the island, though fortunately they caused little damage. Also, Georges produced severe rainfall in the mountainous areas of Puerto Rico, with a maximum of 30.51 inches reported in Jayuya, with many other locations picking up a foot of rain or more from the hurricane. The flooding in the mountainous regions of the island drained off in the rivers of the country, causing every river to overflow its banks. Also, near the coast, the surfeit of water carved new channels due to the record discharge rate. Also, Georges's strong winds caused severe beach erosion in many locations along Puerto Rico's coastline. The eroded beaches, the flooding, as well as debris left many roads impassable or destroyed, which isolated some villages in the western part of the country.
Damage in Puerto Rico from Georges.
Over 22,000 people were in 139 shelters in various cities throughout the country. All experienced power outages. After Georges passed through, lack of water and sewage systems was a serious problem on the island. Georges was the first hurricane to cross the island of Puerto Rico since 1932's San Ciprian Hurricane. Because it was so large, Georges brought strong winds to the entire island of Puerto Rico, damaging 72,605 houses, and destroying 28,005 homes on the island. This left tens of thousands of people homeless. High winds from Georges downed nearly half of the island's electrical lines and telephone lines, leaving 96% of the population of Puerto Rico powerless, and 8.4% of the telephone customers without telephone service. Lack of electricity greatly damaged the island's water system, resulting in loss of water and sewers for 75% of the island.
Debris runoff in central Puerto Rico.
Georges torrential rainfall caused significant damage to Puerto Rico's agricultural industry, including a 75% loss of the coffee crop, 95% of its banana or plantain crop, and 65% of its live poultry. In all, Georges caused $1.9 billion (1998 USD) in Puerto Rico, but due to well-executed warnings there were no reported casualties on the island, thankfully. In the nearby small island of Culebra, Georges destroyed 74 homes, and damaged 89 others. Damage estimates are not available in Culebra.
Damage in Puerto Rico from Georges.
Although there are no official reports of recorded rainfall in Hispaniola, estimates from satellite imagery indicate that as much as 39 inches of rain fell in the mountainous terrain of Hispaniola from Georges, with the heavy rainfall resulting in flooding and mudslides. At least 589 people were killed in the country because of Georges.
Georges produced strong winds, as well as heavy rainfall in the Dominican Republic, along with a storm surge of up to 7 feet. Nearly 10 hours of continous rainfall from the hurricane resulted in overflown rivers and mudslides across the country, damaging many cities along the southern coast of the country, including the capital city of Santo Domingo. Also, 120 mph winds downed trees and uprooted trees across much of the Dominican Republic, littering streets with debris and mud. Georges destroyed thousands of homes in the country, with many being completely destroyed by the hurricane from flooding and high winds. The entire country was without power after the hurricane, which damaged communication systems and water systems throughout the country. Also, because of strong winds and flooding, extensive damage was reported in the Santo Domingo airport. This restricted to military and non-commercial flights.
Downed trees in the city of Santo Domingo.
The agricultural industry was the most severely affected by Georges. The areas hardest hit by the storm coincided with the country's main crop-growing areas. This included the provinces around Santo Domingo. After a severe drought in 1997, torrential rainfall from the hurricane damaged around 470,000 acres of food crops, which included various types of vegetables, fruits, as well as roots -- this is some of the country's main diet food, so Georges really affected the country in that area. Also, a significant amount of tobacco and sugar plantations, the country's most important export crop, were severely damaged by Georges. Also, flooding from Georges caused extreme losses in the poultry industry, which is an important economy in the area. The country has to important significant amounts of rice and other crops to compensate for the losses.
Coastal view of Santo Domingo during the hurricane.
Finally, death toll reports were slow during the aftermath of the hurricane, but a total of 380 people died from Georges in the country. Total damage in the country amounted to $1.2 billion (1998 USD).
Though Georges was a weakened hurricane by the time of its arrival in the country of Haiti, it still produced torrential rainfall across the mountainous country. The capital city of Port au Prince was largely unharmed by Georges, with the exception of flooding in low-lying coastal areas of the city. This flooding damaged the main commercial port. The rest of the country experienced a significant number of mudslides, because of deforestation along the mountains of the country, with these mudslides destroying or severely damaging many houses, leaving 167,332 people homeless. Damage was most significant along the northern coastline from Cap-Haitien to Gonaives due to flooding and mudslides. On the southern coastline, the head of a U.S.-based medical team, which was stranded for several days by flooding in the remote town of Belle Anse, anticipated a rise in malnutrition, disease, homeless, as well as poverty because of Georges.
Also, lack of electricity led to the total disruption of Haiti's water supply system, which caused a decrease in sanitary conditions across the country. In all, 209 people died in Haiti because of Georges. Just like in the Dominican Republic, the agricultural industry was hard hit by the hurricane. After a severe drought in 1997, severe flooding from Georges stopped any chances of recovering quickly. Most of the country's significant crop land, including Arbonite Valley, suffered total losses from the hurricane. Up to 80% of the banana plantations were lost because of Georges. Also, vegetables, roots, tubers, and other food crops were ruined by the hurricane. In addition, thousands of small farm animals were either killed or lost. Total agricultural losses totaled to $179,000,000 (1998 USD) in the country of Haiti, with the country requesting food assistance in the aftermath of Georges to alleviate the serious losses.
In Cuba, Georges made landfall and produced torrential rainfall in the country, with the maximum amount of rain reported being 24.41 inches at Limonar in the province of Guantánamo, with several other locations reporting over a foot of rain from the hurricane. A storm surge of 4-6 feet was expected along the eastern coastline of the country, along with dangerous waves atop the surge. Although Georges was severely weakened when it hit Cuba, it still had sustained winds of 75 mph at its core, and stronger gusts in some of the rain squalls. Heavy rainfall from Georges resulted in mudslides along the mountainous terrain of the country. This, combined with strong winds from the hurricane, damaged 60,475 homes in the country, and destroyed 3,481 homes in the country. 100,000 people were left homeless due to the monstrous hurricane. High winds downed trees, power lines, and telephone lines, leaving many in eastern Cuba without electricity during the aftermath of the hurricane.
Along the coast, severe flooding washed out highway bridges and railroads. Though the eastern portion of Cuba was the most affected by Georges, the cental and western portions of Cuba, including the capital city of Havana, experienced torrential rainfall from Georges, as well as strong wind gusts. There, strong waves broke over the seawall, causing heavy flood damage to some of Havana's old buildings. Also, like in Puerto Rico and Hispaniola, the severe drought during 1997 exacerbated the flood's disruption to the crops in the eastern portion of the country. Georges's heavy rainfall greatly damaged the crops, despite the effort to harvest them prior to the hurricane's arrival. Up to 70% of the plantation crop, a chief food in Cuba's diet, was destroyed by Georges. Also, the sugarcane crop fared badly against the onslaught of the hurricane, as well, limiting one of the country's mort important export crops. Also, the cocoa and coffee plantations also experienced damage from Georges, further damaging Cuba's food supply.
Well-executed evacuations and warnings limited the death toll to six in Cuba, and total damage was $40,000,000 (1998 USD).
Though Georges was initially forecast to move through the Bahamas, it fortunately passed south of the Bahamas. It managed to produce 70 mph winds to the Turks and Caicos Islands, as well as South Andros Island. It also brought precipitation to those areas, due to its outer bands. Damage was minimal, but unfortunately, one person was killed by Georges.
Damage along South Roosevelt Blvd., located in southern Key West.
The eye of Georges passed near Key West around midday as a Category 2 hurricane with 105 mph winds. Upon making landfall, Georges produced a storm surge of up to 12 feet in the city of Tavernier, with similar but lesser amounts occuring along the Florida Keys. The islands, some only 7 feet high, as well as 300 yards wide, are easily flooded. Because of 10 foot waves many parts of the Overseas Highway were underwater from the hurricane. Strong winds downed palm trees and power lines, leaving all of the Florida Keys without power. Georges's waves overturned 2 boats in Key West, damaging 1,536 homes and destroying 173 homes, many of which were mobile homes. Rainfall amounts amounted to a maximum of 8.41 inches at Tavernier, with other locations reporting lesser amounts of rainfall from Georges.
Total damage to the Florida Keys amounted to $200,000,000 (1998 USD). Further up the coast, Georges's outer rainbands produced light rainfall of up to 3 inches. Also, Georges's strong winds knocked down power lines, leaving 200,000 people without power in the Miami area. Damage was minimal, and there were no reported casualties in the Miami area.
Downed trees in Key West along the old houseboat row on South Roosevelt Blvd.
Georges brought a storm surge of 10 feet to the Florida Panhandle, with higher waves on top of the surge. As it moved slowly through the northern Gulf Coast, Georges produced torrential rainfall amounting to a maximum of 38 inches in the city of Munson, with other locations reporting over 20 inches of rain. Winds were relatively minor, peaking at 50 mph along the coast, although Eglin Air Force Base did record a wind gust of 90 mph. Georges's rainbands produced a tornado outbreak, with a total of 28 tornadoes touching down, most of which occured in northwest Florida. 6,525 people stayed in 34 shelters in the Florida Panhandle, although the shelters experienced very little damage from Hurricane Georges.
Total damage along the Florida Panhandle amounted to $100,000,000 (1998 USD), though fortunately, no deaths occured.
In Alabama, Georges produced a storm surge of 11.9 feet at Fort Morgan, along with 25 foot waves on top of it. While moving slowly through Alabama, Georges dumped torrential rainfall, peaking at 29.66 inches at Bay Minette. Georges's outer rainbands spawned tornadoes in the southeastern part of the state, though they caused minimal damage. Along the coast, heavy rainfall and high waves caused extensive property damage. In Gulf Shores, 251 homes, 16 apartment buildings, and 70 businesses experienced significant damage. On Dauphin Island, Georges destroyed 50 homes and left 40 houses uninhabitable. Further inland in the state, strong winds downed trees and power lines, leaving 177,000 people without electricity after the hurricane had passed. 17 shelters housed 4,977 people during the aftermath of Georges. Damage to buildings were minimal to non-existant, with the only direct impact of Georges being a temporary disruption to electricity.
Total damage in Alabama amounted to $125,000,000 (1998 USD). Also, freshwater flooding resulted in Mobile resutled in one death, the only U.S. death from Georges.
In Mississippi, where Georges made its seventh and final landfall, Georges produced a storm surge of 8.9 feet in Biloxi. While stalling over the southern portion of Mississippi, Georges produced torrential rainfall, amounting to 16.7 inches in the city of Pascagoula. The severe flooding caused significant river overflowing, including the Tchoutacabouffa River at D'Iberville, which set a record crest of 19 feet. The overflown rivers in the southern portion of Mississippi flooded homes and forced more people to evacuate just days after Georges had passed. In addition, Georges's rain squalls spawned multiple tornadoes, which damaged evacuation shelters in Pascagoula and Gautier.
Along the coast, beach erosion occured, resulting in some property damage on some beach houses. Around Biloxi, coastal casinos and shipyards experienced little from Georges. Inland, Georges produced strong winds and flooding, caused extensive damage to homes. Georges's strong winds downed power lines, leaving 230,000 people without electricity after the storm passed. After the hurricane, over 6,800 people stayed in 49 different shelters. Also, one shelter in Forrest County was damaged by Georges, forcing the citizens inside to another camp. The shelters experienced roof damage and severe power outages, although one problem that could not be overcome was the language barrier with immigrants.
Total damage in Mississippi from Georges was $665,000,000 (1998 USD), though fortunately no deaths occured, due to well-executed evacuations.
The Chandeleur Islands before Georges.
In Louisiana, where Georges was initially forecast to make landfall (and as a major hurricane, no less), the hurricane's storm surge caused extensive beach erosion and flooding on the Chandeleur Islands, the first line of protection for the Louisiana and Mississippi Gulf Coast. The long island chain was reduced to a few sand banks in the Gulf. Grand Gosier, the home to a flock of the endangered Brown Pelicans, experienced severe flooding from Georges. This flooding destroyed their habitats.
Georges brought a storm surge of 8.9 feet in the city of Point e la Hache, along with higher waves on top of it. Because Louisiana was on the weakest side of Georges, rainfall totals were low, amounting to a maximum of 3 inches. Winds were also relatively light, peaking at 45 mph. Damage was overall minimal in Louisiana, thankfully. Strong winds downed power lines, leaving 160,000 people without electricity in the state.
Total damage was $25,000,000 (1998 USD) in Louisiana. Because of well-executed evacuations, no deaths occured.
The Chandeleur Islands after Georges.
Georges's remnants dropped heavy rainfall in Georgia, with 4 inches falling in Franklin County. In Appling County, rainfall of 5-7 inches closed several roads and left $10,000 (1998 USD) in damage. Atkinson County also reported flood damage from Georges, as well as $15,000 (1998 USD) in damage. Stewart County received over 5 inches of rain from Georges, which caused extensive flooding that left several roads impassable. Total damage from Georges in Stewart County was $33,000 (1998 USD). In the town of Lumpkin, a funnel cloud was reported but there was no damage. In addition to the flooding from Georges, the storm's remnants spawned numerous tornadoes across Georgia. In Randolph County, an F1 tornado uprooted several trees and injured one person. Damage from the tornado was $500,000 (1998 USD).
Because damage was high, the name Georges was retired in the Spring of 1999 by the World Meteorological Organization. It was replaced with Gaston for the 2004 season, and it wasn't retired there, so it is on the list of names to be used for the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season.