HURRICANE GORDON 1994

Hurricane Gordon 1994

Preliminary Report
Hurricane Gordon
08 - 21 November 1994


1994 PRELIMINARY REPORTS

Tropical Storm Alberto (TS)
Tropical Storm Beryl (TS)
Hurricane Chris (1)
Tropical Storm Debby (TS)
Tropical Storm Ernesto (TS)
Hurricane Florence (2)
Hurricane Gordon (1)



Gordon, a complex system, followed an unusual, erratic path over the western Caribbean Sea and islands, Florida and the southwestern Atlantic. Its torrential rains caused a catastrophic loss of life in Haiti and extensive agricultural damage in south Florida.

 

a. Synoptic History

Disturbed weather was noted over the southwestern Caribbean Sea during much of the first week of November. Convection over the area was enhanced by the passage of two tropical waves during this period. The second of these waves induced the formation of a lower-tropospheric cyclonic circulation, as indicated by rawinsonde data, just to the north of Panama around 0000 UTC 6 November. Meteorologists at the NHC's Tropical Satellite Analysis and Forecast (TSAF) unit began tracking this circulation center from satellite imagery beginning on 6 November. By 1200 UTC 7 November, the convective cloud pattern associated with this circulation had enough curvature to warrant an initial satellite intensity classification, a T1.0 on the Dvorak scale. Early on the 8th, deep convection became concentrated in a cluster not far offshore of the southeast coast of Nicaragua. By 1800 UTC on the 8th, Dvorak intensity estimates from TSAF and the NESDIS Synoptic Analysis Branch (SAB) were T2.0 and T1.5 respectively, and surface observations showed the presence of a 29-mph circulation. The tropical depression stage of Gordon begins at this time.

There was limited upper-level outflow from the system, primarily to the north and northeast, which favored very slow strengthening. The depression moved toward the coast of Nicaragua, and an Air Force Hurricane Hunter plane investigating the system found that the center was very near the coast by 1800 on the 9th. Spot wind reports from the aircraft suggested that the cyclone was nearing storm strength. However, the close proximity to land inhibited further intensification. The center hugged the coast of Nicaragua from 0000 to 1200 UTC on the 10th, and is estimated to have moved just onshore near Puerto Cabezas at 0600 UTC. Then, in response to a trough aloft to the northwest, the tropical cyclone turned northeast, moving back over the western Caribbean, and strengthened into Tropical Storm Gordon by 1800 UTC. Data from Air Force flights into Gordon showed that little additional intensification occurred over the ensuing 24 hours, as the storm moved slowly north-northeastward. Surface and aircraft data showed that Gordon consisted of a broad cyclonic circulation, which covered much of the western Caribbean, within which was embedded a smaller scale vortex.

Visible satellite pictures on the 11th revealed that Gordon was being sheared by upper level west-southwesterly flow. On 12 November, Gordon turned east-northeastward, and eastward, heading for Jamaica. Although bursts of strong convection were occurring near and east of the estimated storm center, the system remained disorganized with maximum sustained winds near 46 mph. The low-level center of Gordon was clearly exposed on visible satellite pictures on the 12th. Gordon's center moved across eastern Jamaica early on the 13th and accelerated further, nearing eastern Cuba by 1200 UTC that same day. As Gordon passed near Guantanamo, Cuba, the center became disorganized and difficult to locate. However, it is estimated from surface synoptic reports that the center that was previously being tracked moved rapidly northward across Cuba and was nearing the southern Bahamas by 1800 UTC 13 November. Around that time, Gordon's structure started to become more complicated.

While Gordon was crossing Cuba, an upper-tropospheric trough, which had been intensifying along 80W north of 20N, was cutting off a cyclonic circulation near the Straits of Florida. This upper-level system appeared to induce surface cyclogenesis in the vicinity of the central Bahamas. From 1800 UTC on the 13th through 0000 UTC on the 14th, there were multiple low-level centers embedded within a broader-scale circulation that covered most of central-eastern Cuba and the Bahamas. This larger circulation had accompanied Gordon since the tropical cyclone's inception, but was strengthened and modified by the influence of the upper-level cyclone. After 0000 UTC on the 14th, the cloud pattern and surface wind field resembled that of a subtropical cyclone, with a center of circulation becoming dominant just to the south of the central Bahamas.

A deep-layer ridge near the U.S. mid-Atlantic coast and a larger-scale deep-layer cyclone (within which Gordon was embedded) provided a steering current which carried Gordon, in its transformed state, west-northwestward. As a result of the increased surface pressure gradient between the broad low that accompanied Gordon and the high to the north, winds increased to near gale force over portions of the Florida peninsula late on the 13th. The center of Gordon passed south of the western Bahamas on the 14th and moved across the Straits of Florida early on the 15th. During this time, there was a lack of deep convection near the center and strongest winds were well-removed from the center. Radiosonde data were indicative of a cold-core system, except over the eastern portion of the circulation where warmer mid-tropospheric air was still prevalent.

As Gordon moved over the Straits of Florida, Air Force Hurricane Hunters estimated that the center was rather close to the coast of Cuba, since they were unable to close off a circulation to the north of the "no-fly" line off the north coast of the island. However, the center was broad at this time with light winds covering much of the southern Straits. Just before dawn on the 15th, the radar observations from Key West suggested a reformation of Gordon's center just to the south of the lower Florida Keys, closer to deep convection. A special radiosonde release from Key West at 0600 UTC showed mid-tropospheric warming near the center of cyclone, indicating that Gordon was beginning to re-acquire tropical characteristics. The broad center moved northwestward over the lower Keys, and decelerated over the extreme southeast Gulf of Mexico. Early on the 16th, Gordon turned northward, and then north-northeastward, recurving under the influence of a mid- to upper-tropospheric shortwave trough moving eastward from the central United States. By 1300 UTC that day, the center crossed the southwest coast of Florida near Fort Myers. Maximum sustained winds were near 52 mph.

Moving northeastward, Gordon crossed the Florida peninsula, its center emerging over the Atlantic just north of Vero Beach around 2200 UTC 16 November. Central pressure was falling, and based on a report from the ship ZHEM7, maximum winds increased to near 63 mph shortly after Gordon moved back over the water. Gordon's northeastward motion accelerated on the 17th, and it strengthened into a hurricane. Just when it appeared to be headed safely out to sea, however, the hurricane abruptly slowed down and turned northward, then northwestward, and then west-northwestward, threatening the coast of North Carolina. This turn of events could be attributed to a mid-tropospheric ridge, which built over the eastern U.S. behind the shortwave trough that brought about Gordon's latest recurvature, and the fact that the trough essentially "out-ran" Gordon. The center of the hurricane came within about 80 nautical miles of the Outer Banks at 1200 UTC 18 November, before turning southward and south-southeastward. Gordon weakened to a tropical storm around 1800 UTC on the 18th as it entrained cooler, drier air into its circulation and was affected by northwesterly shear. Turning southward and then southwestward, weakening Gordon executed a track off the southeast U.S. coast. Gordon lost most of its deep convection on the 19th, and weakened to a depression early on the 20th. The weakening depression turned westward and west-northwestward, crossing the coast of Florida near Cape Canaveral as an inconsequential tropical cyclone. Gordon turned northward, then north-northeastward, crossed Georgia, and dissipated over South Carolina.


b. Meteorological Statistics

A number of observing sites reported sustained winds of tropical storm force. Some regional maxima are of interest. In Florida, the highest known sustained wind speed measurement from a land station, 53 mph, was from Virginia Key. A peak gust of 83 mph was recorded by an amateur meteorologist in southern Dade County. A 10-minute average wind speed of 71 mph was obtained from Diamond Shoals lighthouse, off the North Carolina Outer Banks. The 69-mph 1-minute winds with peak gusts to 120 mph, reported from the Guantanamo Navy base, occurred in a thunderstorm microburst and is not considered representative of the intensity of the tropical storm when it was near that site.

There were a number of ship reports of tropical storm force winds associated with Gordon. Ships WPPO and KLHC reported the highest sustained winds, 78 mph, and ship LAHE2 reported the lowest pressure, 987 mb.

The Air Force Reserve's Hurricane Hunter unit carried out numerous missions into Gordon, providing valuable information on its position, intensity and wind distribution. Gordon's peak intensity is estimated to have occurred around 0000 UTC 18 November, when reconnaissance data from the Hurricane Hunters indicated a minimum pressure of 980 mb. Peak flight-level (700 mb) winds of 110 mph were measured at 0123 UTC. This suggests maximum 1-minute surface winds near 86 mph.


1. Rainfall Data

Gordon produced heavy rains over Jamaica, eastern Cuba and Hispaniola. In Hispaniola the persistent southerly flow to the east of the broad circulation that accompanied Gordon, combined with upslope motion over steep topography, generated prolonged rains that led to disastrous floods and mud slides. Gordon also dumped heavy rains over the Florida peninsula, except for the west coastal area north of Fort Myers. Storm total rainfall amounts of 6 to 9 inches occurred over most of the eastern third of the peninsula, with totals to almost 11 inches in Volusia county, 12 or 13 inches over portions of southern and northern Dade county and as high as 15 or 16 inches in some locations in Broward county.


2. Tornadoes

There were six confirmed tornadoes associated with Gordon, all in Florida. Four of these were in Palm Beach County: one in Delray Beach; one in Jupiter; one in Gulf Stream; and, one in Lake Worth. A tornado touchdown was also reported in southern Volusia County in the Iron Bend area. By far the most significant tornado occurred in southern Brevard County near the towns of Micco and Barefoot Bay. This tornado originated as a waterspout and moved onshore along a west-northwest path, striking the Snug Harbor/Barefoot Bay mobile home communities. Its remnant, a funnel cloud, was last sighted near Interstate 95 in southern Brevard County.


c. Casualty and Damage Statistics

There were 1145 deaths attributed to Gordon; 1,122 in Haiti, 8 in Florida, 6 in Costa Rica, 5 in Dominican Republic, 2 in Jamaica and 2 in Cuba.

Although the exact death count will probably never be known, flooding and mud slides due to Gordon caused a catastrophic loss of life in Haiti. On 19 November, the Associated Press reported (quoting Haitian government officials) 531 deaths in Haiti. On 22 November, a bulletin from the Port-au-Prince Radio Metropole (in French) quoted an announcement, made the previous day, from the Haitian Ministry of Defense that the number of reported deaths was 2,000. However, according to Reuters News Agency, a Haitian Ministry of Defense source was quoted on 21 November as saying "there could be up to 2,000 dead". The Miami Herald reported on 24 November that the death toll in Haiti was at least 829 and "could go much higher". Lastly, a report from the United Nations Department of Humanitarian Affairs, Geneva on 21 December shows that the death toll in Haiti was "finally estimated" at 1,122. This last figure appears to be the most reliable one.

United Press International (UPI) reports indicate that there were 6 deaths in Costa Rica. Other reports show 5 deaths in the Dominican Republic, 2 in Jamaica, and 2 in Cuba.

There was a total of 8 deaths in Florida directly attributable to Gordon. One man drowned off Ft. Lauderdale Beach in Broward County in a rip current while rescuing his 8-year old son. One male surfer drowned off Haulover Beach in north Dade County. One woman drowned along a north Dade beach. One man drowned and one woman nearly drowned in Dade county when a car plunged into the Miami River during heavy rains. One man drowned in Dade county when a car plunged into a canal during heavy rains. Two men drowned when a boat was overturned at Hillsboro Inlet in Broward county by swells from Gordon (then located off the Georgia coast). One 74-year old man was killed by trauma to the head, received during the tornado in Brevard county. This tornado also caused 40 injuries (six people hospitalized, two serious injuries).

Most of Gordon's damage was due to fresh water flooding of agricultural areas (vegetables and tropical fruits were the most severely affected crops) in Dade and Collier Counties. In south Florida, some trees, power lines, and traffic signals were blown down. Power was disrupted to 425,000 customers. Gordon caused a 508-foot (154 m) Turkish cargo vessel to drag anchor off Ft. Lauderdale, running it aground less than 50 yards off the beach.

Tornadoes in Jupiter and Gulf Stream caused no known damage; the tornado in Delray Beach caused minor damage; and the tornado in Lake Worth uprooted several trees, damaged 2 business and 39 homes. The Volusia County tornado knocked numerous trees down and did minor damage to homes. The Brevard County tornado did considerable damage in the Snug Harbor/Barefoot Bay mobile home communities. About 62 mobile homes were destroyed, 46 received major damage and 181 had minor damage.

A 49-foot sailboat was disabled about 100 nautical miles off of Norfolk, Virginia. The vessel's crew of three was rescued via helicopter by the Coast Guard.

There was significant beach erosion along portions of the Florida east coast and the North Carolina coast. Five homes were destroyed along the Outer Banks. However, those structures had already been condemned due to damages received a year earlier in Hurricane Emily.

Gordon caused an estimated $275 Million in agricultural losses in Florida. Insured property damage, not including that covered by the Federal Flood Insurance Program, is estimated at $60 Million. Additional damage to property covered by the Flood Program, uninsured property, utilities and public works, brings the total damage estimate from Gordon in the United States to near $400 Million.


Maximum Intensity For Hurricane Gordon
08 - 21 November, 1994

Date/Time
(UTC)
Position Pressure
(mb)
Wind Speed
(mph)
Stage
Lat. (°N) Lon. (°W)
18/0000 33.1 74.2 980 85 Category 1 Hurricane


Landfall for Hurricane Gordon
08 - 21 November, 1994
Date/Time
(UTC)
Pressure
(mb)
Wind Speed
(mph)
Stage Landfall
10/0600 1008 35 Tropical Depression Puerto Cabezas,
Nicaragua
13/0300 1000 40 Tropical Storm Kingston,
Jamaica
13/1300 1000 45 Tropical Storm Guatanamo,
Cuba
15/1300  999 50 Tropical Storm Key West,
Florida
16/1300  996 50 Tropical Storm Fort Myers,
Florida
21/0300 1011 30 Tropical Depression Cape Canaveral,
Florida