Hurricane Marilyn 1995

Preliminary Report
Hurricane Marilyn
12 September - 01 October 1995


Hurricane Allison (1)
Tropical Storm Barry (TS)
Tropical Storm Chantal (TS)
Tropical Storm Dean (TS)
Hurricane Erin (2)
Hurricane Felix (4)
Tropical Storm Gabrielle (TS)
Hurricane Humberto (2)
Hurricane Iris (2)
Tropical Storm Jerry (TS)
Tropical Storm Karen (TS)
Hurricane Luis (4)
Hurricane Marilyn (3)

Hurricane Noel (1)
Hurricane Opal (4)
Tropical Storm Pablo (TS)
Hurricane Roxanne (3)
Tropical Storm Sebastien (TS)
Hurricane Tanya (1)

Hurricane Marilyn devastated portions of the U.S. Virgin Islands when it hit that area with Category 2 to near Category 3 intensity on the Saffir/Simpson Hurricane Scale (SSHS).


a. Synoptic History

Marilyn originated from a tropical wave that crossed from the west coast of Africa to the eastern tropical Atlantic Ocean on 7-8 September. A large circulation of low- and middle-level clouds accompanied the wave, but little deep convection was generated at that time. The system moved westward at about 20 mph over the following few days, under upper-level easterlies on the south side of a well-defined anticyclone aloft, which also moved westward.

The initial Dvorak technique T-number intensities of 1.0 were assigned late on the 11th by satellite analysts at the National Hurricane Center (NHC) and the NESDIS Synoptic Analysis Branch (SAB). Although the low-level circulation was rather disorganized then, deep convection developed and became concentrated near the analyzed center on the 12th. Based on analysis of satellite pictures, it became the fifteenth 1995 Atlantic tropical depression at 1800 UTC on the 12th. The cyclone strengthened further, becoming Tropical Storm Marilyn six hours later. Marilyn reached hurricane strength 4 hours after that, at 0000 UTC on the 14th, shortly after the U.S. Air Force Reserves (Hurricane Hunters) first identified a closed eyewall during their reconnaissance flight.

Over the following three days, the track gradually became directed toward the west-northwest and then the northwest while the hurricane moved toward a weakness in the subtropical ridge over the central Atlantic Ocean. Marilyn continued to strengthen in an "embedded center" cloud pattern, but at a slower rate during that period. It was a Category 1 hurricane on the 14th when the center passed about 45 nautical miles to the north of Barbados, then just north of Martinique, over Dominica, to just southwest of Guadeloupe.

Marilyn continued moving northwestward over the northeastern Caribbean Sea. It hit the U.S. Virgin Island during the afternoon and night of the 15th as a strengthening Category 2, nearly Category 3, hurricane. The Hurricane Hunters reported hail, an unusual occurrence for tropical cyclones. They noted an eye of 20 nautical mile diameter. The strongest part of the hurricane, the eyewall to the east and northeast of the center, passed over St. Thomas. Maximum 1-minute surface winds at that time were close to 95 knots.

After passing just offshore from eastern Puerto Rico early on the 16th, the center of Marilyn was again over the Atlantic Ocean. An upper-level low had developed to the west and this could have enhanced outflow aloft from Marilyn. An eye became distinct on satellite pictures and Marilyn reached its peak intensity, about 949 mb and 115 mph (Category 3) as it began to turn northward on the 17th. Flight-level data showed some evidence of a concentric pair of eyewall wind maxima. Reconnaissance data indicated a marked weakening later that day. The central pressure rose 20 mb in about 10 hours and the peak flight-level winds decreased from 139 to 102 mph. The primary (inner) eyewall disintegrated into a few fragments. The weakening was likely caused by some combination of shearing within the system reported by the flight crew, the impact of nearby waters upwelled not long before by Hurricane Luis that were 1 to 3C cooler than normal, and the decaying phase of an eyewall cycle.

Marilyn began accelerating toward the north-northeast late on the 18th and its center passed about 150 nautical miles to the west of Bermuda a day later. It had made a brief resurgence, with an eye reappearing in satellite pictures. However, upper-level westerly winds then began to shear Marilyn and the low-level cloud center became partially exposed. Marilyn ceased generating deep convection late on the 21st and became extratropical on the 22nd. The remnant circulation meandered over the central tropical Atlantic Ocean for another 10 days before becoming absorbed in a frontal system.

b. Meteorological Statistics

Surface meteorological data during Marilyn's passage over Dominica are not available at the NHC.

Over Martinique and Guadeloupe, the maximum wind speed (presumably, sustained over the WMO-standard of 10-minutes) was 59 mph with gusts between 81 and 86 mph.

Part of Marilyn's eye passed over St. Croix. However, owing to the northwestward motion of the hurricane, Marilyn's strongest winds were located in the eastern or northeastern eyewall which passed just offshore. The highest 1-minute wind speed (estimated for open exposure at 10 meters elevation) at St. Croix was likely a little less than the 85 knots shown in the best track.

On the other hand, St. Thomas was hit by the hurricane's eastern and northeastern eyewall. In addition, the hurricane strengthened as it approached and passed St. Thomas. An uncommissioned FAA Automated Surface Observing System (ASOS) at the St. Thomas King Airport provided the only continuous "official" wind record of the event in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Its maximum 2-minute wind was 104 mph at 0352 and again at 0353 UTC on the 16th. (Around then, the peak 10-second winds in the hurricane at the 700 mb flight-level were 121 to 127 mph.) The ASOS measured a gust to 129 mph at 0408 UTC. Based on the ASOS data, the estimated maximum 1-minute wind speed (for open exposure at 10 meters elevation) at that time is 109 mph. This is 5 knots higher than was estimated operationally. It is likely that somewhat stronger 1-minute winds (perhaps, to Category 3) and gusts above 129 mph occurred on exposed hills. Some unofficial high wind speed observations remain unconfirmed or have been rejected.

The ASOS measured a minimum pressure of 956.7 mb. This occurred at 0422 UTC when the airport was still experiencing 69 mph 1-minute winds, apparently on the inside edge of the eyewall. The estimated minimum pressure for Marilyn at that time is 952 mb. This is lower than implied by the data obtained from the Hurricane Hunters. They reported extrapolated and dropsonde pressures of 957 and 960 mb, respectively, at 0305 UTC, and 954 and 958 mb for those techniques at 0600 UTC. This is reminiscent of Hurricane Andrew's landfall over Florida, where the minimum pressure obtained from surface observations was lower than analyzed using aircraft data. The reason for this discrepancy in Marilyn is not obvious.

An unofficial gust to 125 mph was reported from the island of Culebra.

The center of Marilyn passed far enough to the east of Puerto Rico that hurricane conditions were apparently not experienced on that island. The Naval Base at Roosevelt Roads had maximum 1-minute winds of 41 knots with gusts to 58 mph.

Bermuda experienced sustained winds of 45 mph with a gust to 60 mph during the passage of Marilyn's outer circulation.

1. Storm Surge Data

The storm surge in the U.S. Virgin islands reached 6 to 7 feet, with an isolated storm tide of 11.7 feet reported on St. Croix. Rainfall totals reached about 10 inches in St. Croix and St. Thomas.

2. Rainfall Data

Guadeloupe had exceptionally heavy rain, with one station, Saint-Claude, recording 20.00 inches in a 12-hour period. The maximum rainfall reported from Martinique was about 9 inches.

c. Casualty and Damage Statistics

There were 8 deaths attributed to Marilyn; 5 in St. Thomas, 1 in St. John, 1 in St. Croix and 1 in Puerto Rico.

Marilyn caused severe damage to the U.S. Virgin Islands, in particular to St. Thomas. An estimated 80 percent of the homes and businesses on St. Thomas were destroyed and at least 10,000 people were left homeless. Some of the damage was reportedly attributable to lax construction standards and practices. According to FEMA, 30 percent of the homes on St. John were destroyed and 60 percent were roofless. About 20 to 30 percent of homes in St. Croix received damage. Trees fell and hotel windows broke there. Hillsides were littered with sheets of metal roofing, wooden planks and household debris. On Culebra, 250 homes were destroyed or severely damaged and light planes were overturned.

Large waves crashed over the harbor at Dewey, Culebra, flooding streets. Flash floods occurred over northern and eastern Puerto Rico where the La Plata and Manati rivers overflowed.

The American Insurance Services Group estimated insured losses for the U. S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico at $875 Million. Because the overall loss is often estimated to be up to about double the insured loss, the total U.S. loss is tentatively estimated at $1.5 Billion. The U. S. Virgin Islands Bureau of Economic Research estimated the economic loss at $3 Billion. FEMA placed the cost for their programs at $1 Billion in the Virgin Islands and $50 Million in Puerto Rico. The FEMA totals include losses not traditionally described by the NHC as "damage", such as FEMA's cost to set up field offices, inspector's salaries, disaster unemployment compensation, and crisis counseling.

According to The New York Times, the British Virgin Islands were not seriously affected and some (unquantified) damage occurred in Antigua. According to the Antigua Meteorological Service, that island had extensive flooding in low-lying areas, destruction of banana trees and, otherwise, minimal wind damage.

About 12,000 people went to shelters in Puerto Rico. In the U.S. Virgin Islands, 2,243 people were sheltered.

Maximum Intensity For Hurricane Marilyn
12 September - 01 October, 1995

Position Pressure
Wind Speed
Lat. (°N) Lon. (°W)
17/0300 20.7 67.1 949 115 Category 3 Hurricane

Landfall for Hurricane Marilyn
12 September - 01 October, 1995
Wind Speed
Stage Landfall
14/2100 984 80 Category 1 Hurricane Jenny Point,