Hurricane Gustav was the seventh named storm, third hurricane, and second major hurricane of the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season. Gustav was a very destructive hurricane, reaching Category 4 status on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. Gustav made a total of four landfalls, its first being in Haiti as a Category 1, its second as a tropical storm in Jamaica, in Cuba as a Category 4, and in Louisiana as a Category 2. Gustav caused a 212 mph wind gust in the Pinar del Rio province of Cuba; this measurement was not only ultimately considered to be valid, but it was also the highest wind gust ever recorded within a tropical cyclone. Despite being only of Category 2 intensity at its Louisiana landfall, Gustav's large size enabled it to cause extensive and widespread damage similar to that of Hurricane Betsy in 1965, sans in the New Orleans area, which was relatively unscathed by the large hurricane, save for a small portion of the city which became inundated with floodwaters. Gustav caused severe damage in and around Baton Rouge, knocking out electricity to some areas of the city for weeks. Gustav formed on August 25 and dissipated on September 4.
Gustav caused at least $6.61 billion (2008 USD) in damage, as well 112 direct deaths, and 41 indirect.
|Formation||August 25, 2008|
|Dissipation||September 4, 2008|
|Highest winds||150 mph|
|Lowest pressure||941 mbar|
|Deaths||112 direct, 41 indirect|
|Damages||$6.6 billion (2008 USD)|
|Areas affected||Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, Cayman Islands, Cuba, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas|
|Part of the||2008 Atlantic hurricane season|
Gustav's origins can be traced back to a tropical wave that moved off the coast of Africa on August 13. The wave moved westward across the tropical Atlantic, with its associated convection increasing on August 18. Over the next several days, however, strong westerly vertical shear prevented significant organization. On August 23, the wave moved through the Windward Islands as a broad area of low pressure accompanied by disorganized thunderstorm activity. Late on August 24, the wave increased in organization as it moved northwestward across the southeastern Caribbean Sea, and it is estimated that the wave had organized enough to be designated Tropical Depression Seven near 0000 UTC August 25 while located about 95 miles northeast of the island of Bonaire in the Netherland Antilles. The newly developed tropical cyclone was remarkably small, with its radius of maximum winds less than 10 miles. The cyclone subsequently began undergoing rapid intensification, likely due to its small size. Near 1200 UTC August 25, the depression became Tropical Storm Gustav, and Hurricane Gustav just after 0000 UTC August 26. Later that day, Gustav's winds increased to 90 mph, then weakened slightly before making landfall near the southwestern peninsula of Haiti at around 1800 UTC that day. Gustav moved across the peninsula into the Canal du Sud, and by early on August 27, Gustav had weakened to a tropical storm. Later that day, a ridge built across the western Atlantic and adjacent Florida. Consequently, Gustav turned westward. Though Gustav's circulation center was over water on August 27, enough of its circulation was still over Haiti, as to prevent any re-intensification of the cyclone. Late that day, Gustav weakened further, to 45 mph. Early on August 28, Gustav's moved southward, possibly due to a center reformation. With this development, Gustav's maximum sustained winds increased to 70 mph, just under hurricane intensity. Little change in strength occurred before Gustav's center crossed the coast of Jamaica at around 1800 UTC that day. Early on August 29, Gustav subsequently moved west-northwestward, emerging from the western end of Jamaica at around 1200 UTC that day. Later that day, Gustav entered into an area of strong southeasterly low- to mid-level flow on the southwestern side of the aforementioned ridge. Consequently, Gustav began moving northwestward at around 15 knots, a motion which would continue until its final landfall. Gustav began to re-intensify over the warm waters of northwestern Caribbean Sea, regaining hurricane status late on August 29.
Early on August 30, Gustav became a Category 2 as it moved through the Cayman Islands. After passing the Cayman Islands, Gustav began rapidly intensifying once again and struck the eastern shore of the Isle of Youth near 1800 UTC that day. Near 2200 UTC August 30, Gustav reached its peak intensity of 150 mph as it made landfall along the Pinar del Rio province of the western Cuban mainland. Early on August 31, Gustav's eye emerged into the southeastern Gulf of Mexico. Gustav weakened after moving across Cuba, and it continued to weaken on August 31 as it moved northwestward across the Gulf of Mexico. An upper-level trough west of the hurricane caused some southerly vertical shearing over Gustav, and satellite imagery also indicated that some mid- to upper-level dry air became entrained into the circulation. Both of the these negative factors appear to have limited re-intensification of Gustav, despite being over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Despite the weakening, however, Gustav's size increased as it moved across the Gulf of Mexico. By September 1, tropical storm force winds extended roughly 200 miles from the northeastern quadrant of the circulation center, and hurricane force winds extended out roughly 70 miles from the northeastern quadrant. Gustav made its final landfall near Cocodrie, Louisiana around 1500 UTC September 1 as a Category 2 hurricane with winds of 105 mph. As Gustav's forward motion slowed and it crossed southern and western Louisiana, it weakened to a tropical storm, though it was still a hurricane as it impacted and then subsequently moved away from Baton Rouge. On September 2, Gustav weakened to a tropical depression over northwestern Louisiana. Gustav subsequently meandered across southwestern Arkansas, extreme northeastern Texas, and extreme southeastern Oklahoma on September 3 as it entered an area of weak steering currents at the western end of the Atlantic subtropical ridge.
An approaching mid- to upper-level trough and accompanying cold front caused Gustav to accelerate to the northeast on September 4. As it merged with the aforementioned front, Gustav became extratropical. Gustav's extratropical remnants were absorbed by another extratropical cyclone on September 5 as it moved across the Great Lakes.
Dominican Republic and Haiti
Upon becoming a tropical cyclone, a Tropical Storm Warning was issued from the coast of the Dominican Republic south of Santo Domingo westward to the Haitian city of Port-au-Prince. In addition, a Tropical Storm Watch was issued for the coast of Haiti north of Port-au-Prince to the northern border of the Dominican Republic. Hours later, when the system became a named storm, the aforementioned Tropical Storm Warning was upgraded to a Hurricane Warning and the Tropical Storm Watch was upgraded to a Hurricane Watch.
The government of Haiti placed emergency shelters on standby. In addition, a red alert was issued for the island by the government, though few residents heeded the alert, with fair weather casting doubt in many residents that a hurricane was approaching. American Airlines canceled all of its flights in and out of Port-au-Prince on August 26, which stranded travelers hoping to escape the storm.
On August 25, Carnival Cruise Lines diverted one of its ships from Montego Bay to Mexico in order to avoid the approaching hurricane. In addition, Jamaica's Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management deployed response teams across the island.
At 6:00 PM August 25, a Hurricane Watch was issued for the Cayman Islands. 48 hours later, the watch was replaced with a warning, as Gustav rapidly approached the islands. Stores and gas stations across the islands were busy with residents stocking up on emergency hurricane supplies. In addition, each district office ordered free plywood to protect windows; residents hurried with the plywood in order to secure the windows of their homes and businesses.
A total of 60,000 residents along the western coasts of Cuba were evacuated overnight on August 29, as powerful and dangerous Hurricane Gustav rapidly approached, with additional evacuations ordered on August 30 as Gustav became a Category 4 hurricane. A total of 190,000 residents were evacuated from the low-lying province of Pinar del Rio.
While Gustav was over Haiti on August 26, officials in Louisiana held several meetings discussing the possibility of Gustav impacting the states as a major hurricane in 3 to 5 days. Consequently, several areas of the state prepared evacuations. On August 30, several parishes in and around New Orleans announced plans for a voluntary evacuation. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said that it was possible that thousands of residents who need city help could begin leaving on August 30 as the first wave of a full-scale evacuation. On the morning of August 31, Nagin ordered a mandatory evacuation as Gustav rapidly approached. Later on August 31, Nagin also declared a dusk-to-dawn curfew along with the discontinuance of city assistance in evacuations starting that afternoon. By that afternoon, a total of 1.9 million residents had evacuated southern Louisiana, with 200,000 of those residents being from New Orleans alone; this was the largest evacuation in Louisiana history.
As early as August 29, Louisiana officials had proposed assisted evacuations: contraflow lane reversal on all major highways, as well as 700 buses sent to help move evacuees. For evacuees in need of shelters, the government of Louisiana secured tens of thousands of shelter beds. Due to fears of a repeat of the poor government response to Hurricane Katrina, both the Louisiana Superdome and the New Orleans Convention Center were not used as emergency shelters. On August 30, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency, subsequently dispatching anywhere between 3,000 and 8,000 members of the Louisiana National Guard.
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin shortened his appearance at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado in order to assist in preparations. Beginning on August 29, residents of the low-lying areas of Grand Isle was under a voluntary evacuation, as were the residents along low-lying areas of lower Cameron Parish; these evacuations were quickly upgraded to mandatory evacuations. In Plaquemines Parish, Parish President Billy Nungesser flew in a helicopter and counted the number of vessels and barges that could potentially cause levee and property damage during the hurricane. Parish officials called the owners of 150 boats and commanded them to move them or the parish would sink them itself. 70 of the 150 vessels were sunk, some by the parish, and some by the owners. In addition to this, parish officials attempted to save Belle Chasse by constructing a sand levee across Louisiana Highway 23. Just hours later, the levee had been completed.
On August 30, the Mississippi River was shut down to all ship traffic between the Gulf of Mexico and New Orleans. Pilots located in Lake Charles and Sabine Pass were also making preparations as of August 30 to stop river traffic. Tulane University, Loyola University New Orleans, the University of New Orleans, as well as Xavier University of Louisiana closed their campuses for the entire week, though classes resumed on the morning of September 8, approximately a week after Gustav's landfall. The University of Louisiana at Lafayette also canceled its classes on September 2 and 3, along with Louisiana State University (LSU) and the Baton Rouge Community College.
On September 1, officials in Plaquemines Parish asked residents of Braithwaite to leave due to imminent levee failures. By September 1, FEMA officials estimated that only around 10,000 people had evacuated New Orleans.
On August 29, Texas Governor Rick Perry activated around 5,000 members of the Texas Military Forces. Some evacuees were being relocated to northeastern Texas, including in Dallas and Tarrant counties, along with the city of Tyler.
Voluntary evacuations began on August 30 in Jefferson and Orange counties; this was upgraded to a mandatory evacuation on August 31. In addition, Governor Rick Perry deployed other assets to assist with storm preparation.
Mississippi and Alabama
As early as August 27, evacuation plans had begun for the Mississippi and Alabama Gulf Coasts. In Mississippi, all schools in Harrison County were closed until September 2. Several schools in Pearl River County were also closed until September 2. Also, the University of Southern Mississippi was closed until September 2, as was Alcorn State University.
In Alabama, much of the National Guard was dispatched in order to assist evacuees in other states. Governor Bob Riley order a mandatory evacuation for Dauphin Island, Plash Island, Gulf Shores, along with everything south of Fort Morgan Road, Gulf Shores on August 31. The Mobile Regional Airport was closed on August 31, and it remained close until September 1, but quickly reopened on September 2. The Bankhead Tunnel in Mobile was also closed on August 31.
Hispaniola and the Dominican Republic
A landslide spawned by Gustav's torrential rainfall killed a total of eight people in the Dominican Republic, injuring two others. The government said that more than 1,239 homes were damaged, with 12 destroyed. In addition, a total of 50 communities were isolated due to flooding caused by torrential rain from Gustav.
At approximately 1:00 AM EDT August 26, Gustav made landfall in Haiti around 10 miles west of Jacmel. Gustav's rainfall triggered a landslide in Benet, killing one person; two others were killed in southwestern Haiti when their home collapsed. An additional two deaths were caused by an explosion inside a house, possibly related to the effects of Gustav. The aforementioned city of Jacmel was bisected by floodwaters from Hurricane Gustav.
According to Haiti's National Director of Civil Protection, 77 people died as a result of the hurricane. In addition, Gustav destroyed around 2,100 homes in Haiti, and damaged another 8,150, which caused an estimated 7,200 residents to live in emergency shelters, including churches, community centers, and schools.
Gustav killed a total of 15 people on the island of Jamaica. Gustav produced flash flooding across the island, causing significant damage to the banana crop in the parishes of St. Mary, St. Thomas, and Portland. In addition, the Hope River Bridge, which links the capital city of Kingston to the eastern reaches of the city collapsed, and the Georgia bridge in Portland Parish was destroyed. Total damage in the country reached $210,000,000 (2008 USD).
Gustav produced storm surge and associated flooding across the Cayman Islands, in particular on Little Cayman and Cayman Brac. More than 1,100 residents spent the night in emergency shelters on the islands as Gustav roared through the islands. Most of the residents of the islands, however, simply rode out the storm in homes or hotels.
Gustav made landfall in western Cuba near the community of Los Palacios in the Pinar del Rio province, tearing the roofs off around at least 7,000 homes in the region. In addition, Gustav caused extensive damage to the banana crop within the region.
Gustav toppled telephone poles and fruit trees, shattered windows, and tore tin roofs off some homes. Gustav was the worst hurricane to strike the region in nearly 50 years, and authorities claimed that the storm produced the most damage seen in the area since 1956. Gustav produced a 212 mph wind gust at Paso Real de San Diego in the Pinar del Rio province, the highest recorded in Cuban history; winds were so strong that the weather instruments broke. Gustav is considered the nation's worst hurricane since Hurricane Flora in 1963.
Cuban Civil defense authorities initially stated that there were "many people injured" on Isla de la Juventud, an island of 87,000 people south of the mainland. Nearly all the island's roads were washed out and some regions were heavily flooded. No fatalities have been reported in Cuba, despite the extreme damage.
On September 3, Cuban President Raul Castro stated that 20,000 to 25,000 houses on Isla de la Juventud were damaged by the hurricane. Gustav damaged more than 90,000 homes in the western province of Pinar del Rio according to the government news agency AIN. A total of 3,306 tobacco houses were destroyed, with 906 tons of tobacco leaves wet. More than 32,000 acres of crops were ruined by the powerful hurricane, including 7,239 acres of grain and nearly 1,500 acres of fruit. In addition, 42,000 cans of coffee were destroyed, and 3,100 tons of grapefruit were also destroyed. 930,000 chickens had to be euthanized.
According to Pinar del Rio civil defense authorities, a total of 86,000 homes were damaged. In addition, a total of 80 electrical towers and 600 electric posts were felled by the powerful hurricane. Cuba's electric company indicated that a total of 136 electric towers were toppled and that the electrical grid on Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Youth) was 100% damaged.
In total, Gustav produced $2.1 billion (2008 USD) in damage to Cuba.
In Louisiana, a total of 34 parishes were declared disaster areas following the storm.
Gustav made landfall near Cocodrie, Louisiana on the morning of September 1. At 9:00 AM CDT, a wind speed of 115 mph was reported at Grand Isle, indicating that the northern eyewall had traveled for over four hours along the coast.
After Gustav had weakened to a tropical depression, it spawned several tornadoes, including one near Mamou that killed two people during the early morning hours of September 3, injuring two others.
In Baton Rouge, Gustav produced the most extreme wind damage in the area in recent memory, with the wind damage shutting down the entire city for several days. Most businesses remained closed through September 5. Gustav's strong winds downed power lines and trees, with both littering nearly every street in the city. Indeed, Gustav generated such a substantial degree of debris as to cut off several sections of the city. Few homes escaped some form of damage from Gustav as the hurricane roared to the northwest, just to the west of the capital city. Gustav blew down many signs, including a large portion of the Interstate 10 Highland Road/Nicholson Drive exit sign, which blew off the bridge and into the Mississippi River. The LSU football team postponed their game, scheduled for September 6, against Troy University and rescheduled it for November 15 after damage was caused to Tiger Stadium. The swirling wind in the stadium tore awnings, threw team benches from the sidelines of the playing field into the stands and littered the stadium with debris.
It would take two weeks before power was restored to all residents of the city, and at the end of 2008, debris cleanup was still ongoing in the city.
Around 1.5 million people were without electricity in Louisiana on September 1 as Gustav roared ashore.
Even after the evacuation, around 100,000 residents remained along the coast.
On September 4, New Orleans reached its official reopening date, after power crews had largely restored electricity and other utility services. Damage assessments came as residents returned to their homes. Said damage included downed trees, particularly near Mariott hotels, and large branches were torn off some oak trees along St. Charles Avenue. In addition, millions of smaller branches were scattered throughout various neighborhoods in the city. The Associated Press provided continuous reports on the floodwall along the Industrial Canal, which connects Lake Pontchartrain to the Mississippi River, and is vulnerable to storm surge via the Gulf Outlet. High water splashed over the floodwalls onto new splash guards, but fortunately, the walls were not breached despite this. Gustav produced minor street flooding in the upper Ninth Ward.
Gustav also produced extensive damage in Houma, with the strong winds blowing many roofs and windows from homes, as well as downing many trees and leaving much of the region without electricity. In addition, the strong winds scattered shingles and awnings throughout downtown Houma. At Ellender High, the school's new gym suffered extensive damage, with a rear wall collapsing. Also, the roof of the Houma-Terrebonne Chamber of Commerce was also blown off by Gustav's powerful winds. Despite the damage, it could have been much worse for Houma had Gustav tracked further to the west and brought water up into the city through the Intercoastal Waterway. Fortunately, flooding was relatively minor in the Houma area.
Flooding in Terrebonne Parish from Hurricane Gustav.
Flooding in New Iberia from Hurricane Gustav.
Gustav's next target was central Louisiana, where many trees and power lines were toppled by strong winds. Many homes also sustained some degree of damage, either due to wind, flooding, or a combination of both. Gustav's winds collapsed part of the roof of the Alexandria Mall. Gustav killed two people in central Louisiana, one being from electrocution, and another from a tree falling atop a woman's trailer, crushing her. The water supply of central Louisiana was also affected by Gustav, with power being knocked out to most of the water wells in the Alexandria and Pineville areas.
Damage was reported as far north as northern Louisiana, along the Interstate 20 corridor.
Gustav killed a total of 48 people across Louisiana; five due to fallen trees, two due to a tornado, and the rest being indirect deaths.
Mississippi and Alabama
Gustav spawned a total of 14 tornadoes from Biloxi to Mobile. In southern Mississippi, Gustav produced considerably less damage than Hurricane Katrina, though Gustav did manage to generate a 15 foot storm surge across portions of coastal Mississippi. Gustav flooded some sections of U.S. Highway 90, including the cities of Gulfport and Biloxi, and also flooded some homes. Two people from Metairie, Louisiana died near Vicksburg in an automobile accident while they were evacuating.
Gustav also produced some damage across southern Alabama, destroying the Dauphin Island berm, as well as producing flooding to island roads and homes. Extensive flooding also occurred near Bayou La Batre.
Florida and Georgia
Gustav impacted the Florida Keys during its Cuban landfall, and then the Florida Panhandle during its Louisiana landfall, with several Tornado Warnings issued around Pensacola. Gustav also produced deadly rip currents across beaches of the Florida Panhandle, and officials in Pensacola Beach had been passing out pamphlets that warned of deadly rip currents associated with Gustav which could potentially continue for days. Gustav killed four people along the Florida beaches due to the aforementioned rip currents.
The USS Oriskany, now an artificial reef offshore Pensacola, was shifted 10 feet deeper due to Gustav, which left the flight deck at 145 feet after the storm.
Gustav killed four people in a car accident on Interstate 20 near Carrolton, Georgia while they were evacuating; the remaining two people in the car survived and were airlifted to nearby hospitals.
Because of the slow forward speed of Gustav across northwestern Louisiana and southwestern Arkansas on September 2 and 3, torrential rainfall occurred in Arkansas, with 11.25 inches being reported at Hamburg. This made Gustav the third wettest tropical cyclone to effect the state since 1972.
Because of the damage and loss of life, the name Gustav was retired in the Spring of 2009 by the World Meteorological Organization, replaced with Gonzalo for the 2014 Atlantic hurricane season.