Hurricane Hugo 1989

Preliminary Report
Hurricane Hugo
10 - 25 September 1989


Tropical Storm Allison (TS)
Tropical Storm Barry (TS)
Hurricane Chantal (1)
Hurricane Dean (2)
Hurricane Erin (2)
Hurricane Felix (1)
Hurricane Gabrielle (4)
Hurricane Hugo (5)
Tropical Storm Iris (TS)
Hurricane Jerry (1)
Tropical Storm Karen (TS)

Hugo was a classical Cape Verde hurricane that left a path of devastation across the Leeward Islands, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and South and North Carolina.


a. Synoptic History

The origin of Hugo was detected on satellite imagery on 9 September when a cluster of thunderstorms moved off the coast of Africa and the official best track begins on the 10th when a tropical depression formed to the southeast of the Cape Verde Islands. Hugo moved westward at 21 mph across the tropical Atlantic Ocean, becoming a tropical storm on the 11th and a hurricane on the 13th while located about 1100 nautical miles east of the Leeward Islands.

Hugo gradually turned toward the west northwest and slowed its forward speed as it headed for the Leeward Islands in response to low pressure to the north of Puerto Rico which represented a weakness in the westward extension of the subtropical high pressure ridge.

Hugo's eye was over Guadeloupe at 0500 UTC on the 17th, as indicated by the landfall information. Continuing to deaccelerate and turning toward the northwest, the eye moved over St. Croix at 0600 UTC on the 18th with a forward speed of nine mph. The hurricane then began to accelerate its forward speed and the eye moved over the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico at 1200 UTC and then over the extreme eastern tip of mainland Puerto Rico at 1300 UTC on the 18th.

Early on the 19th, the hurricane was north of Puerto Rico and moving toward the north-northwest at 14 mph. By this time, the weakness in the subtropical high pressure ridge had diminished and the hurricane's motion was under the influence of the ridge and of an upper-level low pressure system centered over georgia. Hugo's track curved gently to the northwest over the next few days as the low pressure center moved southwestward and altered the steering flow pattern. By the 21st, Hugo was centered a few hundred miles east of Florida and began a gradual turn and acceleration toward the north in response to the steering flow associated with a major extratropical low that was advancing eastward across the central U.S.

The final landfall was made on the South Carolina coast near Charleston at Sullivans Island at 0400 UTC on the 22nd with the eye moving northwestward at 26 mph. Moving inland and weakening, the center passed between Columbia and Shaw Air force Base around 0800 UTC. By 1200 UTC, Hugo had weakened to a tropical storm and passed just west of Charlotte, North Carolina to near Hickory.

The storm moved northward across extreme western Virginia, West Virginia, eastern Ohio and to near Erie, Pennsylvania by 0000 UTC on the 23rd and transformed into an extratropical storm. The storm was tracked for two more days as it moved northeastward across eastern Canada and into the far north Atlantic ocean.

b. Meteorological Statistics

Both Air Force and NOAA aircraft participated in the reconnaissance of this hurricane. The first aircraft reached the hurricane on the 15th, several hundred miles east of the Leeward Islands and reported a central pressure of 918 millibars, a wind speed of 190 mph at an altitude of 1500 feet and a surface wind speed of 160 mph. This turned out to be Hugo's maximum intensity. During the following seven days, there were 76 aircraft penetrations of the eye of the hurricane, for an average of one center fix every 2 hours.

On the 17th, just before Hugo's eye passed over Guadeloupe, an aircraft reported 155 mph at 700 millibars. A surface pressure of 941 millibars has since been reported from Guadeloupe. It is estimated that the hurricane's maximum 1-minute surface wind had decreased to 138 mph at this time. A report of 46 mph with a gust to 78 mph has been received from St. Maarten and the center passed about 75 nautical miles to the southwest of this island. The maximum surface wind was again estimated at 138 mph when the eye passed over St. Croix at 0600 UTC on the 18th.

When the eye passed over the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico, it is estimated that the maximum 1-minute wind speed had decreased to 127 mph. On the island of Culebra, just north of Vieques, an anemometer reading of a gust to 170 mph was reported from the ship Night Cap located in the harbour there. Maximum wind speeds were also estimated at 127 mph one hour later when the eye passed over the eastern tip of Puerto Rico. However, the highest recorded wind speed over land was 104 mph with a gust to 120 mph at Roosevelt Roads. The highest winds reported at San Juan International Airport were 77 mph with a gust to 92 mph. The lowest surface pressure reading from Puerto Rico was 946 millibars at Roosevelt Roads.

1. Rainfall Data

Rainfall totals ranged up to 9.20 inches at Gurabao in the eastern interior of Puerto Rico. Rainfall totoals along the southeast US coast ranged from a trace at Jacksonville to 6.10 inches at Savannah to a maximum of 8.10 inches at Mt. Pleasant near Charleston to 2.30 inches at Myrtle Beach to 0.58 inches at Hatteras. A 150 mile wide swath of 3 to 8 inches of rain spread inland across South Carolina. The swath continued over Western North Carolina with a maximum of 6.91 inches rported at Boone. Rainfall totals were in the two to four inch range across western Virginia, West Virginia, western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio and western New York.

c. Casualty and Damage Statistics

There were 49 deaths attributed to Hugo; 13 in South Carolina, 10 in Monserrat, 11 in Guadeloupe, 6 in Virginia, 3 in U.S. Virgin Islands, 2 in Puerto Rico, 1 in St Kitts and Nevis, 1 in Antigua and Barbuda, 1 in North Carolina. and 1 in New York.

Damage Figures are astronomical and Hugo is the costliest hurricane in U.S. history. The American Insurance Association reports $3.042 Billion as the preliminary estimate of insured property dmaage for the U.S. mainland, and $500 Million for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and these numbers are subject to upward revision. "The State" newspaper, Columbia, South Carolina, reports a dollar damage estimate totalling $7.071 Billion for the U.S. mainland, $1 Billion for Puerto Rico the the U.S. Virgin Islands and another $450 Million for other islands in the Caribbean, including Antigua and Barbuda, the British Virgin Islands, Guadeloupe, Monserrat and St. Kitts and Nevis. Hurricane damage estimates for past storms have often been two to three times the insured property damage and it is possible that Hugo's international damage total will exceed $10 Billion.

Meanwhile, the damage estimate is temporarily placed at $7 Billion for the U.S. mainland and $1 Billion for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and $1.5 Billion for the other island countries in the Caribbean. These estimates are believed to be accurate within about plus or minus 50%.

Maximum Intensity For Hurricane Hugo
10 - 25 September, 1989

Position Pressure
Wind Speed
Lat. (°N) Lon. (°W)
15/1800 14.6 54.6 918 160 Category 5 Hurricane

Landfall for Hurricane Hugo
10 - 25 September, 1989
Wind Speed
Stage Landfall
17/0500 941 140 Category 4 Hurricane Guadeloupe
18/0600 940 140 Category 4 Hurricane St Croix,
US Virgin Islands
18/1200 945 125 Category 3 Hurricane Vieques,
Puerto Rico
18/1300 946 125 Category 3 Hurricane Fajardo,
Puerto Rico
22/0400 934 140 Category 4 Hurricane Sullivans Island,
South Carolina