Hurricane Michelle was the thirteenth named storm, the seventh hurricane, and the fourth major hurricane of the 2001 Atlantic hurricane season. Michelle was one of only four November Category 4 hurricanes. It struck south-central Cuba with sustained winds of 140 mph, the strongest landfall in Cuba since Hurricane Fox of 1952. Michelle formed on October 29, and dissipated on November 6.
Michelle caused $2,000,000,000 (2001 USD) in damage and killed 17 people from Central America to the Greater Antilles.
|Formation||October 29, 2001|
|Dissipation||November 6, 2001|
|Highest winds||140 mph|
|Lowest pressure||933 mbar|
|Damages||$2,000,000,000 (2001 USD)|
|Areas affected||Nicaragua, Honduras, Jamaica, Cayman Islands, Cuba, Florida, Bahamas|
A tropical wave moved off the coast of Africa on October 16. The wave headed westward across the Atlantic Ocean with little organization. Upon reaching the western Carribean Sea, however, conditions became much more favorable for tropical cyclone formation, and the wave developed into Tropical Depression Fifteen on October 29. On October 30, the depression made landfall in Nicaragua, then drifted to the north over Nicaragua and Honduras. On October 31, the wave emerged into the Carribean Sea once again, where it strengthened into Tropical Storm Michelle on November 1. After forming, Michelle continued to strengthen because of warm water temperatures and little upper-level shear. On November 2, Michelle became a hurricane. Michelle rapidly intensified at this point, and attained Category 4 status on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale just 30 hours after becoming a hurricane. Michelle drifted to the northeast, fluctuating in intensity as it did so. Despite this, Michelle's winds peaked at 140 mph before its landfall in south-central Cuba on November 4. This made Michelle the strongest hurricane to strike Cuba since Hurricane Fox of 1952. Michelle weakened over the mountainous terrain of Cuba, then accelerated to the northeast. By mid-morning on November 5, Michelle's winds had went all the way down to 85 mph as it moved towards the Bahamas. After crossing the Bahamas, Michelle transitioned into an extratropical cyclone early on November 6. Later that night, it was absorbed by a strong frontal zone.
Throughout its path from Central America to the Greater Antilles, Michelle killed 17 people and producing torrential rainfall. Michelle significantly damaged Central America and Cuba.
In Central America, as Tropical Depression Fifteen formed, it produced torrential rainfall due to its slow movement, which forced over 100,000 people to leave their homes from Panama to Honduras. In Honduras, flooding from the then tropical depression led to overflown rivers as well as mudslides, which cut off around 100 villages in the department of Gracias a Dios from the rest of the country. In addition, bridges, roads, and houses were destroyed across the coastal sections of Central America, with extensive corn and bean crop damage, which affected millions of people. In areas where the rainfall was not extreme, it was beneficial to farmers, as it helped to relieve a severe drought that had been in place for the entire year of 2001. Other drought areas denounced the extreme flooding that destroyed the rest of their crops. The country of Costa Rica, although south of where the depression came ashore, received flooding in the northern portion of the country, which forced thousands of people to evacuate.
Michelle killed 6 people in Honduras, 4 in Nicaragua, leaving behind an extensive but unknown amount of damage. In addition, 26 people were reported missing in Central America. The areas most affected by the storm coincided with the areas ravaged by Hurricane Mitch almost exactly three years prior.
The precursor wave to Hurricane Michelle produced torrential rainfall in Jamaica. When Michelle passed northwest of the island, it produced even more torrential rainfall, amounting to a 10-day total of 37.44 inches at Comfort Castle. In addition, many other locations in the country reported rainfall over 15 inches, which resulted in widespread mudslides and moderate property damage, killing 2 people. Also, many roads were blocked on the island, and numerous houses were either damaged or destroyed by the hurricane. Total damage on Jamaica is estimated to be $18,000,000 (2001 USD).
Michelle produced high surf, storm surge, and flooding in the Cayman Islands. In Grand Cayman, damage totaled to $28,000,000 (2001 USD), mostly along the west coast. No fatalities occured there.
In Cuba, about 750,000 people and 741,000 animals were evacuated prior to the hurricane's arrival. Michelle quickly crossed the island, and was the strongest hurricane to strike there since Hurricane Fox of 1952. Cayo Largo del Sur, located south of the country, a 9-10 foot storm surge was reported, which inundated the entire island with water. Closer to Cuba, the Isle of Youth received a maximum of 11.83 inches of rain from Michelle. On top of that, it received 15 foot waves, which caused extensive power outages and flooding. On Cuba's western and southern coasts, Michelle produced 4-5 foot waves, along with a high storm surge. In addition, Michelle produced torrential rainfall, with a maximum of 11.83 inches at Punta del Este. The provinces of Matanzas, Villa Clara, and Cienfuegos were hardest hit, where 10,000 homes were destroyed and another 100,000 damaged. In addition, significant damage was reported to the sugar cane crop. Also, significant damage was reported in the town of Varadero. In the capital city of Havana, strong winds and heavy rainfall from Michelle destroyed 23 buildings, with many other receiving damage from the hurricane. However, due to well-executed warnings and evacuations, only 5 people were killed in Cuba from Michelle. Total damage in Cuba from Michelle reached $1.8 billion (2001 USD).
The United States offered aid to the island, an act it had done in the past despite a political embargo. President Fidel Castro refused, believing his country would survive with enough resources for the reconstruction process.
Michelle skirted South Florida, producing wind gusts of 50 mph, as well as 2-3 inches of rain, and two weak tornado. Michelle's prolonged easterly winds caused significant beach erosion on Florida's east coast, while the west coast of Florida received a storm surge of 1-3 feet from the hurricane. Also, a NOAA WP-3D Orion hurricane hunter aircraft was damaged during a flight into the hurricane.
Michelle caused no deaths in Florida.
Michelle produced 12.64 inches of rain in Nassau, and produced a storm surge of 5-8 feet in New Providence. Michelle caused no damage or deaths in the Bahamas.
Because damage was severe, the name Michelle was retired during the Spring of 2002 by the World Meteorological Organization. It was replaced with Melissa, which was used during the 2007 Atlantic hurricane season.