Hurricane Felix was the second Category Five Hurricane to form in the Atlantic Basin in 2007. The storm started out as a tropical wave in the Central Atlantic, and gradually strengthened to a tropical storm on September 1st, 2007. It was not only the second such powerful storm in just two weeks on the heels of Hurricane Dean, but also the eighth Cat Five storm in the past five years, and ninth in the past ten. The storm took a track very far to the south in the Caribbean sea as it moved similar to hurricanes Ivan (2004) and Emily (2005). After rolling through the Southern Windward Islands, it rapidly traveled to the West just to the North of the ABC islands of the Netherlands Antilles before coming ashore near Cabo Gracias A Dios in extreme Northern Nicaragua, where approximately 130 people were killed in the worst disaster in Central America since Hurricane Mitch in 1998.
Following Hurricane Dean's second landfall along the Gulf Coast of Mexico on the afternoon of August 22, 2007, there was somewhat of a lull in activity throughout the Atlantic Basin Tropics. However, things began to change as the following week crept along towards the Labor Day Holiday. At one point, there were five areas of interest in the Atlantic including a couple non-tropical lows, and a tropical wave in the Central Atlantic that had been monitored by forecasters at the National Hurricane Center earlier in the week. It would be this tropical wave that would strengthen, and develop into the next tropical storm. Felix first emerged as a depression less than two hundred miles to the East of the Windward Islands in the Lesser Antilles late in the afternoon on Friday, August 31, 2007.
Following a track just to the south of the one Dean took through the Caribbean, Felix would take another twelve hours before it became the sixth named storm of the season on Saturday Morning, September 1, 2007 at 5:00 AM EDT. Comparing it to Hurricane Dean at this point, you would see that Dean was further along as a storm. When Dean rolled through the Lesser Antilles, it was a Category Two Hurricane with maximum sustained winds in excess of 100 miles per hour. Now, Dean became a tropical storm further out in the Central Atlantic several days earlier while Felix developed into a depression, and later a storm much closer to the Lesser Antilles.
Regardless of the earlier differences, both storms would end up to be quite similar after Felix dramatically increased in strength with the second biggest drop in barometric pressure over a 24 hour period ever recorded in the Atlantic. Only Hurricane Wilma from October 2005 had a bigger drop with a fall of 83 millibars in 24 hours while Felix experienced a fall in pressure that was 70 millibars. Within that timeframe, Felix went from a minimal tropical storm to the second Category Five Hurricane of the 2007 Atlantic Hurricane Season. At its peak intensity, Felix had maximum sustained winds of 165 miles per hour, gusts up to 200 miles per hour, and a minimum central pressure of 929 millibars, or 27.43 inches of Hg (Mercury).
While both teams would be equal in the amount of wind power they had (165 miles per hour), Felix became a Category Five Hurricane well before landfall while Dean crossed the Category Five threshold just as it was about to hit land in the Yucatan Peninsula. Both storms weakened for a bit before re-strengthening to Cat Five. Dean would be the stronger storm though with a minimum central pressure of 906 millibars at landfall to be the third strongest system of all time while Felix would end up being in the top thirty on the all time list tied with Hurricane Emily back in July 2005.
Moreover, Dean was a much larger storm with hurricane force winds extending some 60 miles and tropical storm force winds extending 205 miles from its eye. On the other hand, Felix was smaller with hurricane force winds extending some 30 miles from its eye while tropical storm force winds reached out some 115 miles. Both storms had very narrow eyes at peak intensity. When Hurricane Dean made landfall near Chetumal, Mexico in the Southern Yucatan, its eye was 15 miles wide. Meanwhile, Hurricane Felix's eye got as small as 10 miles wide when it was located approximately 500 miles East of Nicaragua.
Felix blew through the Southern Windward islands of Grenada, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines before setting its sights on the ABC islands of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao in the Netherlands Antilles just to the north of Venezuela. The ABC islands are very rarely hit by tropical storms and hurricanes since they are at a very low latitude in the Southern Caribbean sea. Normally, hurricanes form between 15 and 30 degrees North latitude because they need spin, or rotation in addition to warm sea surface temperatures and light upper level winds to develop. If these storms get too close to the equator, they won't get the necessary spin to develop since there is no spin at the equator.
Nevertheless, within the past several years there have been strong storms to develop this far south including Hurricane Ivan back in 2004 and Hurricane Emily back in 2005. As a matter of fact, Felix followed a path that was quite similar to Emily, and both storms as well as Ivan ended up being Category Five Hurricanes. Felix would become the eighth such powerful hurricane in the last five years, and the ninth in the last ten. Felix would spare the paradise island chain of the Netherlands Antilles as it passed to the north with only tropical storm force winds and torrential rains falling on Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao on Sunday morning, September 2, 2007.
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Staying north of the ABC islands, Felix, a Category Two storm at this point, would be able to gather more strength over the very warm waters of the Southwestern Caribbean. Next to the Gulf of Mexico, the Southwest Caribbean Sea is a prime area for tropical formation throughout much, if not all, the Atlantic Hurricane Season. Due to the fact that the sun's strongest rays stay over this area for much of the summer months, and the equator is nearby with its days of equal length, the sea surface temperatures stay well above the essential 80 degree threshold needed for tropical formation. Hurricane Felix would enjoy these waters very much as it intensified into the season's second major hurricane before reaching the optimal level of hurricane power with winds exceeding 156 miles per hour.
Felix's intensification would make 2007 the second year in the last three with more than one Category Five Hurricane. Prior to that, there had only been one year with more than two Category Five Storms and that year was 1961 with storms Carla and Hattie. In addition, these recent Cat Five systems have ended up being ranked among the most powerful storms of all time. If you look at the Hurricaneville all time list, you will notice that the top fifteen include seven of the nine Cat Five storms in the past ten years including Wilma, Katrina, Rita, Mitch, Dean, Ivan, and Isabel. Expanding that list to the top 35 yields the two other storms: Emily and Felix.
Six of these storms are in the top ten including Wilma, which ended up being the strongest all time surpassing Hurricane Gilbert. Only Gilbert, the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, Hurricane Allen (1980), and Hurricane Camille are the other storms in the top ten. There continues to be a great debate on whether or not the increase in the number of powerful storms to form in the Atlantic is due to a cyclical pattern of increased activity, or it is a symptom of global warming across the planet. Researchers and forecasters such as Chris Landsea of NOAA and Dr. William Gray of Colorado State believe that it is just a part of a cyclical trend while other scientists such as Kerry Emanuel of MIT believe it is a consequence of global warming.
Emanuel states that storms are becoming more powerful across the globe with an increased number of Category Four and Five storms in the Western Pacific, Eastern Pacific, and Atlantic since the early 1970s. Adding more fuel to the fire was the development of not only one, but two tropical cyclones in the Arabian Sea near the Gulf of Oman earlier in 2007. Global warming is a phenomenon where the average temperature of the planet has been gradually increasing as a result of the increased production of greenhouse gases such as Carbon Dioxide. This phenomenon has noticed a direct relationship between the earth's growing carbon footprint and more warming since the 1950s.
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Uninhibited by any major land masses as well as any hostile upper level winds, Felix grew to a Category Five Hurricane as it approached the coast of Nicaragua and Honduras in Central America. These two countries are no strangers to dangerous hurricanes. Back in 1998, both countries were devastated as Hurricane Mitch, a Category Five storm with winds as high as 190 miles per hour, dumped up to 75 inches of rain over the interior mountain terrain of these two countries. The deluge produced deadly and destructive floods and mudslides, which not only claimed the lives of an estimated 11,000 people, but also put the economies of these two countries back some 50 years according to government officials at the time. Many feared the worst as the storm approached.
After some fluctuation in intensity, Felix, which weakened to a minimal Category Four Hurricane at one point with 135 mile per hour winds, and a minimum central pressure of 953 millibars, or 28.14 inches of Hg (Mercury), strengthened again to Category Five strength with sustained winds back up to 160 miles per hour, gusts exceeding 195 miles per hour, and a minimum central pressure back down to 935 millibars, or 27.61 inches of Hg. As the storm moved inland, it would weaken to a tropical storm, and then a depression as its tropical moisture encountered the rugged terrain of interior Central America.
The result of this interaction was a lifting of the tropical air over the topographical barriers, which produced copious amounts of rainfall. Thankfully, Felix didn't stall, or drift like Mitch did, and that was able to keep rainfall amounts from getting to the levels of October 1998. However, there would still be tragedy and heartache in Central America. As Felix made landfall near Cabo Gracias A Dios in Northern Nicaragua, the storm lashed many coastal towns nearby including the port city of Puerto Cabezas, where scores of people were injured and killed. As of Friday, September 7th, the death toll had already surpassed the century mark with approximately 130 people left dead in the wake of the storm.
Meanwhile, the government of Nicaragua reported that the storm caused some $30 million in damage to key crops from the country. Accusations flew by residents of coastal areas that the government didn't give proper warning for the hurricane, which resulted in many unnecessary deaths. Felix's remnants spread over El Salvador, Guatemala, and the Chiapas section of Southern Mexico before crossing over into the Eastern Pacific basin. As of the time of this report, Felix's remnants have not regenerated. If the remnants do reform, the storm will be assigned a different name since it is in the EPAC basin. With the formation of Felix, there have been six depressions, six named storms, two hurricanes, two major hurricanes, and two Category Five Hurricanes in the Atlantic so far in 2007.
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