In this day and age of heavy activity in the Tropical Atlantic, it is easy to forget storms of yesteryear. However, in 2005, we look back on two storms from twenty years ago in Hurricanes Gloria and Elena. Both these storms developed during the peak of the Atlantic Hurricane Season that year with Elena causing chaos along the Gulf Coast by way of its erratic motion while Gloria was a monster of a storm at one point with 150 mph winds and even stronger gusts in the Western Atlantic after forming north of the Lesser Antilles.
The powerful hurricane drew national attention, and it marked the first time in my personal memory that the term, Storm of the Century was used. It would be used again on a couple of other occassions including Superstorm '93 and the Perfect Storm of 1991. Gloria, which would eventually brush the Outer Banks of North Carolina with its strong winds, rapidly moved up the Eastern Seaboard, and came ashore again across Long Island and New England, which brought back memories of an even more powerful East Coast Hurricane, the Long Island Express of 1938.
To give all of you folks reading this article of how long ago it has been since Hurricane Gloria traversed the tropical waters of the Atlantic Ocean, I was just starting my sophomore year in high school when the storm came up the East Coast in September, 1985. This was a time that wasn't during the very active period that we are dealing with now. As a matter of fact, the period of 1970 to 1994 was a very inactive period of tropical storms and hurricanes following the very active era of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. However, the year 1985 was an exception to the rule.
During the 1985 Atlantic Hurricane Season, there were a total of 11 named storms including one in late November (Hurricane Kate). Comparing that to the fifty-five year average compiled by Dr. William Gray and his staff at Colorado State, 1985 was slightly above normal. Putting the 1985 season against the 154 year average, the number of named storms was quite a bit above normal. Hurricanes coming up the East Coast of the United States is fairly rare compared to the Mid-Atlantic and Gulf Coast states.
Prior to Gloria's arrival, the only time I had a personal experience with a tropical cyclone of any kind was some six years earlier with Hurricane David, which by the time it had made it up into New Jersey, was a modest tropical storm. Nevertheless, what was left of David at that time brought gusty winds that downed a lot of tree branches and leaves. Ironically enough, several days earlier in September, 1985, Tropical Storm Henri, a weak tropical system, formed in the Mid-Atlantic off the Delmarva Peninsula, and brought some light sprinkles to Central Jersey.
Gloria was a rare hurricane in the sense that it completely missed the Lesser Antilles as well as Puerto Rico and Hispanola. I could remember being excited about that since it meant there was a growing possibility that the storm would come up the Atlantic seaboard. As it gradually moved westward in the open waters of the Western North Atlantic, Gloria steadily grew in strength. First, it became a major hurricane, then its winds reached 125 mph, and then soon after that, the storm contained winds of 150 mph with gusts approaching 175 mph.
At that time, my family did not have cable television so the best I could do in terms of monitoring the storm's progress was to read the newspapers, watch the local television news, check reports each morning on Good Morning America before going to work, and then even going to a friend's house in my neighborhood to get reports from the Weather Channel. The storm did conjure up a lot of interesting stuff from the media at that time. Channel 11 in New York, which was WPIX before it became the WB11 that it is known by today, devoted a whole night of coverage of the storm.
During their coverage, they mentioned famous storms of the past such as the Long Island Express of 1938, the Hurricane of 1944, the Ash Wednesday Nor'easter of 1962, and Hurricane Donna as well as other famous storms that affected the New York Metropolitan area in years past up to that point. The term Storm of the Century was being used rather loosely describe the threat Gloria presented to the East Coast of the United States. The storm was certainly being hyped up as the big one.
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As Hurricane Gloria churned up the waters of the North Atlantic from its tropical origins off the African Coast and Cape Verde Islands to its ultimate demise in the Canadian Maritimes, the media began to cover it as the Storm of the Century, a term, which has also been used several times since September, 1985. This was due to the fact that it threatened the major cities of the East Coast of the United States, which is rare for a major hurricane since the waters off the Mid-Atlantic into the Northeast are marginal to cooler, which along with the upper wind patterns, isn't conducive for tropical development.
With that moniker, Hurricane Gloria drew a lot of media hype. In taking some of my earlier courses in Meteorology at Rutgers University, it was often mentioned how this term was used to describe situations like Gloria, the Superstorm of 1993, and other notable coastal storms that affected the Northeastern United States. However, I would probably say that the Superstorm of 1993 would deserve this honor more so than any other storm I've experienced although there are some, who would say that the Tornado Outbreak of April, 1974 would be worthy as well as the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 that hit the Florida Keys.
Others may give an argument for Hurricane Andrew, which was the costliest hurricane on record with $27 billion dollars in damage to South Florida in August, 1992. Andrew was also a Category Five Hurricane like the Labor Day storm of 1935. The Galveston Hurricane of 1900 could also make that claim since it was the deadliest hurricane on record to hit the United States with death tolls ranging from six to ten thousand people. Nevertheless, the Superstorm of 1993, was not just a powerful storm, but also one that brought a variety of effects to a vast area. The storm impacted some 26 states with a large volume of snow. It brought a ten foot storm surge to the Florida Panhandle, which is rare for a winter storm, and it produced tornadoes as well as blizzard conditions in places such as the Southeast, which rarely get snow.
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On the evening of September 26, 1985, the various media outlets showed the satellite imagery of the hurricane off the Carolinas, and it was quite a sight to see. Another vivid memory from that storm was the noise the birds were making. You just had the sense that something big was about to happen even if you hadn't been watching the news. The phrase, "Calm Before the Storm," also was very evident because it was eerily calm outside that night.
Earlier in the day, I was in my first period class, and we were discussing the hurricane. More specifically, we were concerned with the possibility that there would be no school the next day. My math teacher tried to dispell that notion by saying that there would be school tomorrow, and that the hurricane was not going to hit here in New Jersey. She did have a point. The last time a major hurricane made landfall in New Jersey was in September, 1821 when a Category Four storm came up the coast into Delaware Bay and came ashore in Cape May, and moved through the Garden State along what is now the Garden State Parkway.
The next morning, Friday, September 27th, 1985, Gloria struck during the early morning hours along the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It brushed the Cape Hatteras area as a weaker storm, but still a major hurricane. More importantly, the storm was now caught up in the Westerly flow pattern that dominates the Northeastern United States, and began to move much faster up the coast. Forward motion was as high as 45 mph, which depending on your location with respect to the storm's northern and eastern quadrants, added to the hurricane's wind speed, or subtracted from it.
During the morning and early afternoon, Hurricane Gloria would race up the coast, and stay to the east of New Jersey putting the Garden State on the western and weaker half of the storm while putting Long Island and New England in its crosshairs. Gloria would come ashore in Long Island as a Category Two storm, and hit a much more urbanized area than the 1938 hurricane did. As the storm moved into New England, it continued to encounter much cooler waters, and take on more non-tropical features.
When it was all said and done with Gloria, the storm had maximum sustained winds of 150 mph, and a minimum central pressure of 919 mb, or 27.13 inches of Hg. The storm lasted some 17 days in the Atlantic, which ranks it among some of the longest on record, and it came ashore along the Outer Banks of North Carolina and in the Long Island portion of New York as a Category Three Hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Scale. As of 2000, the National Hurricane Center and NOAA ranked this storm 15th on the all time list for costliest hurricanes with some 900,000,000 dollars in damage. However, with the active 2004 season that had Charley ($14 billion), Ivan ($12 billion), Frances ($9 billion), and Jeanne ($6.9 billion), Gloria most likely moved down several notches on that list.
Gloria, which along with Hurricane Elena, had its named retired, was also responsible for some 8 deaths in the United States including one in Long Island, New York, two in Connecticut, two in Rhode Island, and one in New Hampshire. The storm also caused nearly 3 million people to be without electricity, and forced some 150,000 people to be evacuated from there homes along the Jersey Shore and Long Island. Flood waters on Long Beach Island in New Jersey split the island in half for a period of time. The storm moved at speeds of 35 mph up the East Coast, which rivaled that of the 1938 Long Island Express, and the 1944 Hurricane, which was another powerful storm to affect the Tri-State area.
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