The 2005 Atlantic Hurricane Season continued to be a record breaker during the middle of July. On the heels of powerful Hurricane Dennis, which originally had claimed the title of most powerful Atlantic storm ever in the month of July, Hurricane Emily emerged near the Southern Windwards, and rolled through the Caribbean island of Grenada with 90 mph winds. Little would we know that Emily would supplant Dennis as the most powerful storm ever in July, and make it two very powerful storms during the month of July. The storm also continued the very fast start to the season as it has already racked up 9 named storms, 2 hurricanes, and 2 major hurricanes, and we're just getting into the active portion of the season.
Grenada, which was devastated by the wrath of Hurricane Ivan in September, 2004, was in the process of trying to recover from the 2004 season's most powerful storm when it got a second hit from Emily. The hit by Emily proved to be a very tough obstacle for those in the tiny island, which gained notoriety in October, 1983 when the United States invaded it to overthrow a Communist backed government.
Leaving behind the Windwards, Emily had nothing to get in its way. Very warm sea surface temperatures in the region coupled with light and less hostile upper level winds created optimum conditions for tropical development. Consequently, Emily gradually strengthened to not only the season's second hurricane, but also second major hurricane, and the strongest of the year to date with 155 mph winds and a minimum central pressure of 929 mb, or 27.43 inches of Hg.
Thankfully, Emily spared Jamaica and the Cayman islands the brunt of its fury. The combined effect of the small diameter of the tropical system as well as the storm's southerly track, prevented Emily from really packing a wallop to these areas of the Caribbean although they did still receive torrential rains. However, as time went by, the near Category Five Hurricane loomed as a very large threat to the resorts of Cancun and Cozumel along the Mayan Riviera in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.
Some 60,000 tourists had to be evacuated from such famous vacation spots as Cancun, Cozumel, Playa de Carmen, Tulum. The hardest hit area in this region was the coastal town of Puerto Aventuras, which is located some 60 miles south of Cancun. This is where the eye of the storm came ashore on Sunday afternoon, July 17, 2005. Maximum sustained winds at this point had mercifully dropped to just 135 mph as the storm encountered some difficulties from dry air intrusion, slightly more hostile upper level wind conditions, and interaction with the plateau of the Yucatan.
Despite the fact that many of the tourists appeared to be caught off guard by the arrival of the storm, many were able to stay in makeshift shelters. Some even went to the Cancun airport, which reopened on Monday afternoon, July 18th, 2005. Meanwhile, the hurricane had weakened to nearly a tropical storm as a Category One Hurricane when it re-entered water in the Southern Gulf of Mexico on Monday evening.
Upon its emergence in the Gulf, the South Coast of Texas and Northeastern Mexico became under the gun. Emily, which followed a path much similar to Hurricane Gilbert back in September, 1988, threatened many of the oil rigs controlled by Mexico's primary oil company, PEMEX, or Petroleos Mexicanos. As many as 15,000 workers on these rigs had to be evacuated in advance of the storm, which caused power outages, wind damage, and flooded streets throughout the Yucatan.
Residents got ready for the storm all along the Eastern Mexican and Southern Texas coast by boarding up their windows and evacuating low lying areas. While this was occurring, Emily was encountering some difficulty as it struggled to regain the form it had prior to striking in the Yucatan. However, that was about to change. While Weather Channel crews came down, and situated themselves in South Padre Island to cover the storm's approach, Emily became better organized and began to strengthen.
Pressure dropped rapidly as conditions became favorable for dramatic intensification. Emily went from a mere Category One storm to a Category Three with 125 mph winds in just 24 hours. In a situation similar to Charley last season, Emily's pressure fell some 14 millibars in just several hours late Tuesday afternoon, July 19th. Emily would eventually make landfall in the area of La Pesca, Mexico far south of Brownsville, the most southern city in Texas. Nevertheless, the storm did have an impact in Southern Texas with winds of 60 mph, and huge waves. Some 27,000 homes and business were left without electricity.
As Emily moved further inland, it weakened in strength as it became more and more cutoff from its energy source of the warm ocean water. Despite that, the storm, which eventually weakened to a depression, and then a remnant low, was still a threat with torrential rains. This was particularly the case in the higher elevations of the Sierra Madre, or Mexican Rockies were rainfall amounts were expected to be over a foot. Monterrey, a major industrial city in Mexico's interior, and home to some four million inhabitants, still suffered some impact from Emily.
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As we mentioned earlier, Emily just surpassed Dennis as not only the strongest storm of the 2005 Atlantic Hurricane Season to date, but also the most powerful storm ever on record in the month of July. For a little while, Emily had higher winds than Dennis did, but still had higher pressure. Eventually, Emily would record both the highest winds at lowest pressure with 155 mph and 929 mb (27.43 inches of Hg) respectively. Prior to Dennis and Emily this year, the last major hurricane in July was actually, Hurricane Bertha in 1996. However, Bertha was only a Category Three at peak intensity, and made landfall only as a Category Two.
Prior to the 2005 season, the strongest July hurricane ever was in 1926 when an Unnamed storm, which formed on July 22nd, reached peak winds of 120 knots, or about 140 mph. So, the intensity of these two storms were well beyond that in 1926. Keep in mind though that record keeping today is much more accurate than back in those days, and there is more data available with today's storms. Nevertheless, both Dennis and Emily formed much earlier than the storm back in 1926, and also reached peak intensity much earlier, which gives those suggesting that there is a link between global warming and stronger hurricanes, something to support their argument.
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Emily and Dennis were the highlights of a July that saw a record five named storms and not just two hurricanes and major hurricanes, but the two most strongest hurricanes on record in the Atlantic in July. Hurricane Audrey, which struck Louisiana and Texas as a Category Four Hurricane in June, 1957, June and July, 2005 recorded seven named storms, which is the fastest start ever with the 1936 season being the second fastest by having its sixth named storm on August 5th.
The months of June and July are not known for having a lot of storms since sea surface temperatures are not peaking and upper level conditions are somewhat hostile. However, an abundance of moisture in the Atlantic from the Sahel region of Africa as well as above normal sea surface temperatures and light winds have created conditions for this early season record pace. Prior to July, there were already two named storms in the month of June, which has only happened 12 times before.
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