Believe it or not, we have been in an active period of hurricane activity for almost ten years. However, up until the 2004 Atlantic Hurricane Season, the United States Coastline has been relatively lucky. The past two months of the season have made up for that. Hurricane Jeanne, the tenth named storm of the season, carved a path of devastation from the Northeastern Caribbean to the Bahamas, and then finally Florida after a loop it took.
Jeanne ended up being the sixth major hurricane of 2004 along with Alex, Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Karl. Of these storms, Jeanne has ended up the deadliest with over 1,500 deaths in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Florida. Initial estimates have the storm costing billions of dollars in damage in Florida, which has been hit by five storms, four hurricanes, and three major hurricanes in the 2004 Atlantic Season.
This hurricane took a back seat to Hurricane Ivan, which was a Category Five Hurricane at one point, and carved a trail of death and destruction of its own through Grenada, Jamaica, Cayman Islands, and the Gulf Coast of Alabama and Florida. At this point, Jeanne had formed in the Western Atlantic, and moved over Puerto Rico and Hispanola with 80 mph winds and heavy rains. It would be these heavy rains that would be what was so devastating about Jeanne.
As Hurricane Ivan steamrolled through the Southern and Western Caribbean, and headed toward the Gulf Coast, Jeanne emerged. On September 13th, 2004, the eleventh tropical depression of the season formed during the late afternoon some 70 miles to the East-Southeast of Guadeloupe in the Leeward Islands. Over the next six hours, the depression, which remained weak with 30 mph winds, and a 1010 mb central pressure, moved through the Leeward Islands.
Strengthening slightly by the early morning of September 14th, Jeanne was still a depression with 35 mph winds, and a slightly falling pressure at 1009 mb. Rainfall amounts associated with the system increased slightly from 4 to 6 inches to 7 to 9 inches. Tropical Storm Warnings were in effect for Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands as the storm headed in that direction. Finally, eighteen hours after becoming a depression, Jeanne arrived with minimal sustained winds of 40 mph, and a central pressure of 1006 mb, or 29.71 inches of Hg.
From that point, Jeanne underwent a gradual increase in intensity. Over the next 45 hours, Jeanne would increase its winds to 80 mph despite some periods of fluctuations in strength. Pressure dropped to 985 mb, or 29.09 inches of Hg. This made Jeanne a hurricane, the seventh hurricane of the 2004 season. But, the storm wouldn't last long at this intensity as it was about to move into the Dominican Republic, which is on the island of Haiti.
At the 8 AM Advisory issued by the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida, Jeanne was located right over the tip of Hispanola near Cabo Engano in the Dominican Republic. Many storms have moved over this area in the past including Hurricane Debby back in the middle of August, 2000, and Hurricane Frederick in late August of 1978, and they've lost their starch. The rugged terrain of this island includes mountains that go as high as 8,000 feet above sea level.
Hurricanes don't like land. When they make landfall, they are cut off from their energy source, which is the warm ocean water. When this happens, the air rises over the mountains, and condenses. As a result, the latent heat produced from the tremendous condensation, causes the cold cloud tops to warm, and the storm weakens. However, this weakening does come with a price. Heavy rains are produced as the tropical air interacting with the mountains causes torrential rains to develop. The people of the Dominican Republic, and particularly Haiti, were about to find out how devastating these rains are.
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Another element to all of this was Jeanne's slow motion, which was often close to a drift over a period of 36 hours. This slow motion has catastrophic results for residents of areas affected by the storm. It is devastating because slow motion usually means torrential rainfall. The amount of rain a region gets is proportional to the forward motion of the storm. The slower the storm is moving, the more rainfall it will produce.
Jeanne dragged along the Northern Coast of Hispanola from the Northeastern portion of the Dominican Republic to the Haiti/Dominican Republic border. The consequence was heavy rains, floods, and mudslides. There were already several deaths in neighboring Puerto Rico, but the heavy toll was brought upon Haiti although the Dominican Republic had over two dozen dead. The hardest hit area was the town of Gonaives in Haiti, which was struck by floods and mudslides that overwhelmed the sewage system there.
Haiti, which is the poorest nation in the entire Western Hemisphere, has very poor infrastructure. In addition, its political system has been in chaos for over a decade with the most recent upheaval occurring earlier this year, in February, elected President Jean Betrand-Aristide was forced out of power by a rebellion. The country has been rocked by numerous military coups over the last several decades, and that adds to the economic and social misery there. Then, throw in a hurricane with torrential rains, and you have a nation in complete disarray.
At this point, rainfall amounts were ranging from 9 to 13 inches. So combine that with the slow movement, and you have at least a foot to two feet of rain. This heavy rainfall just overwhelmed the infrastructure of roads, bridges, sewage systems, and more in Haiti. The flooding along with the raging rivers of mud created by mudslides left hundreds dead. As of the time of this report, there were already 1,514 people dead with another 900 missing. In addition, there were some 300,000 people left homeless by Jeanne's tropical rainfall.
The United Nations organized a relief effort to send emergency supplies of food and medicine to the area. However, looting in the wake of the storm occurred as many in the local population grew desperate. As a result, a UN Peacekeeping force consisting of troops from Argentina, Uruguay, and neighboring Caribbean islands were brought in to restore order, and help aid workers facilitate the relief effort. With the passage of time, the threat of disease looms larger while food has become hard to come by in light of the unrest.
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After skirting the Northern Coast of Hispanola for nearly two days, Jeanne emerged again in the Caribbean Sea as a weakened system. The storm was even downgraded to a depression at one point, which wasn't surprising after seeing what it had gone through in the previous 36 to 48 hours. Drawn by weakness in the overall circulation pattern created by Ivan as it moved up the Eastern third of the United States, Jeanne headed northward through the Southern and Central Bahamas, and appeared to be headed out to sea. However, Jeanne changed its mind.
A ridge had built back in behind what was left of Ivan, and forced Jeanne to do a loop to the East, then South, and finally West again as it was several hundred miles to the East of the Northern portion of the Bahamas on the evening of Thursday, September 23, 2004. During this time, Jeanne had gradually strengthened too as it became a hurricane again in the late afternoon of Monday, September 20th. By the time Jeanne was heading West again, the storm's winds grew to Category Two force at 105 mph.
Over the next 48 to 60 hours, Jeanne would continue to become better organized. It's eye becoming better defined, its core sector of winds becoming more severe as its already high cloud tops were getting colder. By 5 AM on Friday morning, September 24th, Hurricane Watches were issued for Florida's East Coast from St. Augustine in the North to Florida City in the extreme South. It was quite likely that Jeanne was going to impact the Florida coast somewhere in the area of Palm Beach, Martin, or St. Lucie counties.
Some thirty hours later, on the morning of September 25th, Jeanne joined five other storms this year that became major hurricanes as its sustained winds crossed the threshold of Category Three strength at 115 mph. Minimum central pressure had dropped in the eye to 955 mb, or 28.20 inches of Hg. Over the next 15 hours, the storm continued to gradually get better organized as its peak winds ended up being 120 mph at landfall while its pressure bottomed out at 951 mb, or 28.08 inches of Hg.
The storm would come ashore near Stuart, Florida, which was pretty much in the same area Hurricane Frances hit several weeks earlier. The storm rolled across the Peninsula as it knocked out power to some 2.3 million people in Florida. It was the fourth time the state of Florida was hit by a hurricane. Add Tropical Storm Bonnie to the list, and you have five storms hitting some portion of Florida in less than eight weeks. The last time a single state was hit this hard was Texas in 1886.
And, Jeanne didn't stop there. After it wound down to a tropical storm, Jeanne moved northward into Georgia, where it toppled trees and flooded out roads. Further north, Jeanne produced tornadoes in South Carolina. Some 76,000 residents in the Peach State were left without electricity. The storm, which was downgraded to a depression by this point, brought torrential rains and flooding to the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, where ground was already saturated plenty by remnants from Ivan and Frances.
In South Plainfield, New Jersey, the rainfall amount over a period of some 24 hours was a solid 2.5 inches while places such as Trenton to the Southwest received over five inches. More tornadoes were spawned in Delaware and Maryland. Heavy rains also occurred in New York City as numerous counties throughout New York and New Jersey were under a Flood Warning. Rainfall amounts from the storm ranged from 4 to 8 inches locally in the Mid-Atlantic including parts of Central Jersey such as Mercer, Monmouth, Middlesex, and Ocean counties.
So far, the death toll from Jeanne is 1,551 while initial damage estimates range from $5 to $9 billion dollars. This season has so far been one of the most costliest on record with initial damage estimates from all these storms ranging from $20 to $30 billion, and it could get higher. Most importantly though, the 2004 Atlantic Hurricane Season has served as a reminder to people who want to live along the coast to do so at their own peril.
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