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Hurricane Irene was the ninth named storm and the sixth hurricane of the 1999 Atlantic hurricane season. Irene developed in the Carribean Sea south of Cuba. It made landfall in western Cuba as a tropical storm, then struck near Key West, Florida as a Category 1 hurricane. After landfall, Irene headed northeast and recurved out to sea, after brushing the Carolinas. Irene peaked as a 110 mph Category 2 hurricane with a pressure of 958 mb, just shy of Category 3 status. Irene produced heavy rainfall over Cuba, causing four deaths, as well as some damage. Irene was a wet October hurricane for Florida, similar to many of the hurricanes from the 1930s and 1940s. Irene produced 10-20 inches of rainfall in the Miami Metropolitan Area, producing urban flooding unseen since Hurricane Dennis in 1981. After its Florida landfall, Irene produced flooding and killed one person in the Bahamas. In North Carolina and Virginia, Irene produced heavy rainfall of over 10 inches, creating more flooding after hurricanes Dennis and Floyd ravaged the area earlier in the season. Irene's flooding in those states closed many roads, and caused rivers to crest their banks, although damage was minimal.

Despite Irene only being a Category 1 hurricane at landfall, it killed 8 people and caused $800,000,000 (1999 USD) in damage across the state of Florida.

Hurricane Irene making landfall
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Formation October 13, 1999
Dissipation October 19, 1999
Highest winds 110 mph
Lowest pressure 960 mbar
Deaths 3 direct, 15 indirect
Damages $800,000,000 (1999 USD)
Areas affected Cuba, Bahamas, Florida, North Carolina

Meteorological History

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A broad area of low pressure developed across the western Carribean Sea on October 8, and persisted until October 11. At that time, a tropical wave entered the area and caused the convection associated with the low to become more organized, resulting in the development of a low-level circulation. Late on October 12, convection increased around the low-level circulation, and the system organized into Tropical Depression Thirteen on October 13, while located off the coast of northern Honduras. The depression moved northward, strengthening into Tropical Storm Irene late on October 13. Operationally, it was classified as a tropical wave until it had already reached tropical storm strength. As Irene moved north, it strengthened, and it reached 70 mph winds early on October 14. Operationally, Irene was upgraded to a hurricane on October 14, but post-season analysis indicated that Irene remained a tropical storm until later on. Irene eventually turned north-northeast, crossed over the western portion of the Isla de la Juventud as a strong tropical storm, and hours later, it struck mainland Cuba near Batabano. Late on October 15, Irene struck near Key West, Florida as a Category 1 hurricane. Irene then continued north-northeast, striking near Cape Sabel as an 80 mph hurricane. Early on October 16, Irene entered the Atlantic Ocean near Jupiter, Florida, still as a hurricane.

Irene then turned north, remained a hurricane despite having limited convection, and then Irene turned northeast in response to an approaching upper-level trough. Irene moved parallel to the South Carolina and North Carolina coastlines on October 17, while remaining just offshore, and continuing to the northeast. On October 18, Irene continued northeast, and while passing over the warm waters of the Gulf Stream as well as interacting with the upper-level trough, Irene rapidly intensified to a Category 2 hurricane with a pressure of 964 mb and winds of 110 mph, just shy of Category 3 status. Irene's structure was very asymmetrical, and the convection was not very organized, even though Irene was nearly a major hurricane. Irene continued rapidly to the northeast, steadily weakening until it became an extratropical cyclone on October 19 while south of Newfoundland. Irene's extratropical remnants continued to the northeast over the open waters of the northern Atlantic Ocean before becoming absorbed by a larger extratropical cyclone later that day.

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Irene at peak intensity.

Preparations

Cuba

In Cuba, slightly over 228,000 people were evacuated from low-lying areas before Irene's arrival. Around 10% stayed in temporary shelters, while the rest stayed with family or friends. Included in the evacuation total were 6,000 tourists and over 1,000 residents that resided in rickety houses. Workers protected tobacco leaves by moving them to sealed warehouses, and they also transported cattle and livestock to higher ground. Irene forced the closure of schools and cancellation of some flights across the country. The Cuban government issued a Hurricane Watch for Pinar del Río Province, Havana, Havana Province, and Isla de la Juventud 21 hours before Irene hit. The warned area, along with the Matanzas Province, had the Hurricane Watch upgraded to a Hurricane Warning 15 hours before Irene made landfall in the country.

Florida

Initially, it was forecast that Irene would parallel the west coast of Florida, weakening to a tropical storm before making landfall on the west-central portion of the state. However, when Irene began moving on a more eastward track, officials in Monroe, Charlotte, Lee, and Manatee Counties issued evacuations for people in mobile homes as well as recreational vehicles. In addition, the city of Key West issued a curfew during the hurricane's onslaught. The National Hurricane Center issued a Hurricane Warning from Florida City to Boca Grande, including all of the Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas. A Tropical Storm Warning was issued was issued from Florida City, northward to Savannah, Georgia. In addition, a majority of the flights during Irene's passage were cancelled in Miami International Airport. Governor Jeb Bush declared a state of emergency in Florida the day before Irene made landfall, and ordered for the activation of the Florida National Guard to aid in disaster relief efforts.

While moving northward off the coast of Florida, Irene was initially expected to make landfall in South Carolina, which caused the National Hurricane Center to issue a Hurricane Warning from Edisto Beach, South Carolina, to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Because of this, voluntary evacuation orders were issued for portions of South Carolina. However, when Irene's track shifted further east, mandatory evacuation orders were issued for coastal areas of North Carolina, with tens of thousands removed from their homes. The evacuation order included several beach towns; those living in low-lying areas and mobile homes were advised to seek shelter. In addition, many of those left homeless by Hurricane Floyd just weeks before were evacuated to shelters. Jim Hunt, the Governor of North Carolina, declared a state of emergency, with the state's emergency management team switching from a recovery objective towards a preparation.

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Impact

Irene killed 18 people (15 indirectly) and caused $800 million (1999 USD) in damage. Most of the damage and deaths occurred due to the torrential rain the storm caused.

Cuba

In Cuba, Irene produced heavy rainfall, peaking at 11.9 inches in Playa Girón in the Matanzas Province. Havana picked up 4.8 inches of rain from Irene, while many other locations reported rainfall amounts higher than 7 inches. In addition, a peak wind gust of 78 mph occured in the city of Havana from Irene. The flooding caused by Irene damaged more than 471,000 acres of sugar cane and 39,000 acres of banana plantations. Heavy rainfall from Irene also flooded tobacco fields. Throughout Cuba, Irene's rainfall damaged 27,336 houses and caused the total loss of 730. Also, 13 hospitals were affected to some extent by Irene. 154 sectors of Havana lost power because of Irene. In all, Irene killed 4 people in Cuba, with two of those being in Havana because of electrocution.

Florida

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Flooding from Hurricane Irene.

While moving through the Florida Keys, Irene produced a storm surge of 2.3 feet in Key Vaca, and Key West received a 1.5 foot storm surge. Irene produced sustained winds as high as 79 mph, and also produced high wind gusts, the strongest of which was 102 mph at Big Pine Key. Irene produced heavy rainfall in the Keys as well, with 12 inches of rain falling in the city of Key West. The heavy rainfall flooded many roads throughout the Florida Keys, prompting officials to close 50 miles of U.S. Highway 1. Irene also spawned a tornado in Islamorada, and that tornado caused heavy damage to three houses. Moderate wind gusts caused power outages throughout the Florida Keys, but overall damage was minor.

In spite of Irene moving through Florida as a minimal hurricane, there were no reports of hurricane-force winds on land in mainland Florida. The highest official sustained wind reported was 60 mph in Miami Beach, and the highest accurate wind gust was 71 mph at Vero Beach. In addition to the National Weather Service reports, the South Florida Water Management District reported higher wind gusts near Lake Okeechobee as high as 93 mph at Belle Glade, although these winds were likely caused by small-scale mesocyclone-induced downbursts. Irene produced heavy rainfall across southeastern Florida, peaking at 17.45 inches at Boynton Beach, although many areas of the Miami Metropolitan Area picked up anywhere from 10 to 15 inches of rain from the hurricane. 1 F1 tornado and three F0 tornadoes touched down in Broward and Palm Beach Counties, injuring three people.

Strong wind gusts left 700,000 people without power from Miami to West Palm Beach, including the National Hurricane Center. The NHC briefly lost power, but during an hour and a half delay due to computer reboots, they obtained information from the computers in the midwestern United States as well as Washington D.C. Officials from Florida Light & Power Company were unable to repair power lines due to strong wind gusts from the hurricane, while Irene's flooding submerged underground lines, preventing repairs until the waters subsided. Five people, including three people in one family, were killed when they walked through electrified waters due to downed power lines. Rainfall from Irene flooded roads and canals, which stalled numerous cars. Three people drowned when they drove their vehicles into the canals. The floodwaters persisted for nearly a week in some areas, displacing hundreds from their homes and isolating thousands. Total property damage in southeastern Florida totalled to $262,000,000 (1999 USD).

Irene also caused severe agricultural damage in southeastern Florida totalling to $338,000,000 (1999 USD). Floodwaters killed 30 cattle at one farm, though the owners protected the rest of their 1700 cattle by raising the feeding areas above the flood plain. According to an initial estimate, the flooding destroyed between 5% and 15% of fruit groves along its path. The flooding delayed the winter planting of corn and bell peppers and damaged tomato plants, forcing Miami-Dade County growers to replant damaged crops. The hurricane also damaged sugar cane, vegetables, and citrus crops, with citrus canker spreading after the storm passed through the area. Due to the crop damage, the U.S. Department of Agriculture declared Broward, Collier, Miami-Dade, and Monroe Counties as disaster areas. This qualified eligible farmers for low-interest emergency loans.

After moderate beach erosion from previous hurricanes Dennis and Floyd, Irene produced significant beach erosion in the eastern part of the state's coastline. The erosion exposed foundations of private homes, leaving some uninhabitable. Total damage from beach erosion totalled to $21,000,000 (1999 USD). Many beach access points were closed until more sand could be produced, or until the stairways were rebuilt. Strong northerly winds and high seas severely damaged or destroyed docks in the Indian River Lagoon. Heavy rainfall ranging from 5 to 9 inches in Martin and St. Lucie Counties flooded 260 homes. Also, strong wind gusts in excess of 60 to 70 mph severely damaged 34 houses and caused light damage to 1,114 homes in Martin, St. Lucie, and Brevard Counties. In addition, the strong winds from the hurricane damaged 465 mobile homes, 15 severely, and destroyed one. 555 commercial buildings also experienced light damage, and gusty winds downed about 1,000 trees. Rough seas broke a large barge free from its mooring, and brought it into a bridge on Florida Highway 528. In Flagler County, Irene caused severe damage to 4 homes, and minor damage to 173 houses and 18 businesses. Damage in northeastern Florida totalled to $51,000,000 (1999 USD).

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Beach erosion from Irene.

Bahamas

Hurricane Irene passed near the northwestern Bahamas, causing moderate flooding and spawning a few tornadoes. One tornado caused damage in Marsh Harbour and killed one on Abaco island. Four indirect deaths occurred when a truck drove off a wet pier during a downpour.

Carolinas and Mid-Atlantic States

Irene dropped heavy rainfall of 5-6 inches in eastern South Carolina. The resulting flooding closed several roads, including some in western Georgetown County, which were washed out. Wind gusts of up to 48 mph in Charleston downed trees and power lines, causing sporadic power outages. The winds also caused minor beach erosion along the coastline.

While Irene paralleled the coast of North Carolina, it produced heavy rainfall, peaking at 11 inches in Ernul, with several other locations reporting over 6 inches from rain from the offshore hurricane. The heavy rains caused severe river flooding in the state, many of which had not receded from Hurricane Floyd's passage through the area a month before. Because of the runoff, the Tar, Cape Fear, and Neuse Rivers all crested above their banks. The flooding also caused a dam in south-central Hoke County to overflow. Irene also produced two tornadoes in the state, with one being in Jacksonville County (rated F0), and the other being in Weeksville (this one was an F2). The F2 tornado destroyed two trailers, damaged several houses, and injured one person. The flooding closed several roads throughout North Carolina, causing several traffic accidents. Irene indirectly killed one man when he hydroplaned on a wet road and crashed. In spite of the flooding in North Carolina, Irene caused little damage.

Irene produced heavy rainfall in Virginia, which reached 12 inches in Chesapeake. The heavy rainfall resulted in widespread street flooding, with some locations reporting up to 4 feet of water.

Lack of Retirement

Despite the damage, the name Irene was not retired in the Spring of 2000 by the World Meteorological Organization. It was used again during the 2005 season, and is on the list of names to be used for the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season.

See Also

1999 Atlantic hurricane season

References

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurricane_Irene_%281999%29#

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