Hurricane Cesar 1996

Preliminary Report
Hurricane Cesar
24 - 28 July 1996


Tropical Storm Arthur (TS)
Hurricane Bertha (3)
Hurricane Cesar (1)
Hurricane Dolly (1)
Hurricane Edouard (4)
Hurricane Fran (3)
Tropical Storm Gustav (TS)
Hurricane Hortense (4)
Hurricane Isidore (3)
Tropical Storm Josephine (TS)
Tropical Storm Kyle (TS)
Hurricane Lili (3)
Hurricane Marco (1)

Hurricane Cesar caused at least 51 deaths and considerable destruction along its path through the southern Caribbean Sea and Central America.


a. Synoptic History

The precursor of Hurricane Cesar was a tropical wave which passed Dakar, Africa on 17 July and moved westward for a few days without development. The wave was accompanied by a large 200-mb anticyclone which suggested a very favorable upper-level environment for development. Cloudiness and showers began to increase when the wave was about 900 nautical miles east of the southern Windward Islands on 22 July. When the wave neared these islands, the 24-hour surface pressure changes were of the order of -3.0 mb, (which is the threshold value that forecasters have typically found to be associated with a developing system) and a surface circulation center began to develop. The incipient center of circulation moved over Trinidad and Tobago early on 24 July. This system produced rains and gusty winds through a large portion of the Lesser Antilles. A post-analysis of the surface data and satellite images indicate that a tropical depression formed from the disturbed weather at 1800 UTC 24 July when the circulation center was moving just to the north of the island of Margarita along the north coast of Venezuela.

The depression moved westward through the southern Caribbean Sea and reached tropical storm status at 1200 UTC 25 July in the vicinity of Curacao.

Cesar continued its general westward track very close to the coast of South America and gradually intensified. However, the development was inhibited by the close proximity to land and it was not until 1200 UTC 27 July that Cesar reached hurricane status over the open waters of the southwestern Caribbean Sea. Cesar began strengthening more rapidly prior to landfall just north of Bluefields, Nicaragua, and it reached its maximum intensity of 86 mph and minimum pressure of 985 mb near landfall at 0400 UTC 28 July. Rapid intensification of tropical cyclones near landfall has been observed in the past; e.g., Hurricanes Andrew and Cleo over south Florida in August 1992 and September 1964.

Cesar crossed Nicaragua and moved into the eastern North Pacific where it reintensified and became Hurricane Douglas. The most recent hurricane to hit Nicaragua before Cesar was Joan, a category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, in October 1988. Joan also redeveloped over the eastern Pacific and became Tropical Storm Miriam.

b. Meteorological Statistics

Cesar was upgraded to tropical storm status based on a 46-mph 1-minute sustained wind and gusts to 58 mph observed in Curacao at 1155 UTC 25 July. The central pressure in the best track associated with Cesar while moving near the coast of Colombia is estimated to be 1 or 2 mb lower that reported by the reconnaissance plane at that time because the storm's close proximity to land prevented the plane from reaching the pressure center. Ship observations and the Hurricane Research Division (HRD) surface wind analysis indicate that 39-mph winds extended northward from the center for about 240 nautical miles. San Andres experienced calm winds at 2128 UTC followed by 74-mph gusts marking the passage of a portion of Cesar's center. The strengthening just prior to landfall is supported observations from the reconnaissance plane just before it departed the storm center. Data indicate the formation of an eye at 0050 UTC 28 July, a closed eyewall of 15 nautical miles diameter at 0256 UTC and a drop in the surface pressure of 3 mb in 1 hour. Satellite images confirmed the strengthening at landfall by showing an embedded center within cold tops between -54 to -63C corresponding to a T-number of 4.5 on the Dvorak scale.

c. Casualty and Damage Statistics

There were 51 deaths attributed to Cesar.

Cesar was responsible for at least 51 deaths on its trek through the Caribbean Sea and Central America. Most of the deaths were attribute to heavy rainfall which caused flash flooding and mudslides. The death total includes 26 people in Costa Rica which was not in the direct path of the hurricane but was hit by floods and mud slides.

Maximum Intensity For Hurricane Cesar
24 - 28 July, 1996

Position Pressure
Wind Speed
Lat. (°N) Lon. (°W)
28/0400 12.2 83.9 985 85 Category 1 Hurricane

Landfall for Hurricane Cesar
24 - 28 July, 1996
Wind Speed
Stage Landfall
28/0400 985 85 Category 1 Hurricane Bluefields,