The 2001 Atlantic Hurricane Season will be long remember for the number of powerful late season storms that formed throughout the Atlantic Basin along with the devastating floods caused by Tropical Storm Allison in June. In October, 2001, we had Hurricane Iris, which became the most powerful hurricane of the season to date with sustained winds as high as 145 mph before it made landfall along the central coast of Belize.
There were other storms to follow such as Jerry, which faded in the Central and Eastern Caribbean at about the same time, Karen, which was a weak tropical storm that moved into the Canadian Maritimes, and then there was Lorenzo, which formed out in the Subtropical Atlantic near the Azores.
However, none of them had the impact that Michelle would have on Cuba as well as the residents of the Florida Keys and South Florida, who haven't been hit by a major hurricane since Andrew in August, 1992. Sustained winds reached Category Four strength, and storm surge on the Southern Cuba coast approached 20 feet. Before Michelle would race away into the Atlantic without striking the United States.
On the weekend of October 28, 2001, we were paying close eye to the subtropical Atlantic where Tropical Storm Lorenzo had developed near the Azores after being a subtropical system with little in the way of tropical characteristics. It would soon fade as it entered cooler waters of the North Central Atlantic, and weakened while becoming extratropical in nature.
During that time though, an area of disturbed weather had developed off the Central American coast, and was bringing a deluge of rain to Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Honduras. This broad area of low pressure would become better organized, and develop a center of circulation, which made it the fifteenth tropical depression of the year. Moving very slowly, it had eventually moved over land in the Northeastern coastal provinces of Nicaragua.
There, Michelle, brought some 20 inches of heavy tropical rainfall that produced massive flooding and mudslides to a region that is still trying to recover from Hurricane Mitch in 1998. Then, it remerged into the Gulf of Honduras and the Western Caribbean, where steering currents controlling it broke down, and left Michelle spinning her wheels while gradually becoming better organized. On Thursday, November 1st, 2001, it became a tropical storm, and then, on Friday, November 2nd, 2001, it became a minimal hurricane. However, there would be more to come from Michelle before the weekend was over.
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Still spinning away in the Western Caribbean, Michelle rapidly intensified during the night of Friday, November 2nd and during the day, Saturday, November 3rd, 2001. It went from a storm with 85 mph winds, a strong Category One Hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Scale to a major hurricane of Category Four strength with sustained winds estimated at 135 mph.
Watches and Warnings were issued for a vast area of land from Jamaica and the Cayman Islands in the South to Cuba, Florida Keys, South Florida, and practically all of the Bahamas late Saturday night, November 3rd. The big problem with this storm was the fact that it hadn't been moving to much, and that created a lot of apprehension particularly in South Florida.
You could sense it in Internet Broadcasts such as those provided by Jim Williams of Hurricane City. People in South Florida and the Keys wanted to know where this thing was going to go. The forecasters at NEMAS were also scratching there head since Michelle's situation presented a very difficult forecast. The key player in all of this was an upper air disturbance near Galveston, Texas that was supposed to help kick Michelle off to the east and away from South Florida.
However as of Saturday night, this disturbance was still trying to get its act together. So forecasters played it safe, and when Sunday, November 4th rolled around, Michelle started to make its move. It moved more to the Northeast, and toward the South shore of Cuba, where it lashed off shore stations with 124 mph winds, and brought a storm surge of up to 20 feet.
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Michelle would go on to cross the island of Cuba, and reemerge from its North Coast, but it had already begun to weaken. Winds had dropped to only 110 mph late Sunday evening, and by mid Monday morning, November 5th, 2001, it had weakened to only a moderately strong Category One Hurricane with 85 mph winds.
More importantly, Michelle was moving away from South Florida and the Keys and only gave a brushing blow to places like Miami, which had wind gusts of 40 to 50 mph. Hurricane Watches were issued for the resort island of Bermuda while Michelle picked up speed and raced to the Northeast at 18 mph.
It quickly moved through the Bahamas causing some damage there, but nothing as catastrophic as what was probably done in Cuba. Once again, the residents of South Florida, which still have nightmares about Hurricane Andrew, can finally breathe a sigh of relief.
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