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Hugo Instructive for Coastal Residents as Hurricane Season Begins With AM-Hurricane

May 28, 1990

Hugo Instructive for Coastal Residents as Hurricane Season Begins With AM-Hurricane Season-Stress

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) _ People caught by Hurricane Hugo last year might disagree, but forecasters here say the deadly storm may have had a positive side effect - it got the public’s attention.

And one forecaster says hurricane seasons may be getting worse.

Hugo, which caused an unprecedented $10 billion in damage, killed 28 people in the Lesser Antilles islands and an additional 29 in South Carolina.

But it would have been much more deadly if it had hit almost anywhere else, says Bob Sheets, director of the National Hurricane Center.

At the advent of the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, Sheets and other hurricane experts are using Hugo’s example to get the attention of complacent coastal residents who’ve never experienced such fury.

″We’ll take advantage of the fact that there was a Hugo last year and raise people’s awareness,″ said Sheets. ″The consequences of not being prepared are too great.″

Early warnings about Hugo last September allowed 350,000 people to evacuate safely, and in South Carolina the worst of the hurricane struck the Francis Marion National Forest between Charleston and Myrtle Beach, Sheets said.

It heavily damaged the fishing village of McClellanville and several small rural communities, but the population there is sparse.

If Hugo had struck a major coastal population center, the destruction would have been greater than most Americans have ever seen, according to computer simulations known as SLOSH models, for Sea, Lake and Overland Surges from Hurricanes.

With SLOSH, forecasters can predict the height of the storm surge - the mass of water piled up by the storm that is a hurricane’s most destructive component - anywhere along the U.S. coast by punching in a storm’s speed, size and intensity, Sheets said.

″The population density in South Carolina is a lot different from the Florida coast, New Jersey or Galveston, Texas,″ Sheets said. ″Compare that situation to the Miami-through-Palm Beach area - all of Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties would have been ... destroyed.″

Hugo was the worst hurricane to strike the southeastern U.S. coast since Betsy hit the Florida Keys in 1965, killing 74 before it went on to Missisippi and Louisiana. Since then, the population of areas such as south Florida has ballooned and most residents have never directly experienced a hurricane.

According to one of the nation’s leading hurricane experts, Hugo may have been the first in a new era of killer storms.

″No one knows for sure, but the odds are, Florida and the East Coast are going to get it,″ William Gray, professor of atmospheric science at Colorado State University, told a national conference of weather experts this month.

Gray came to this conclusion after his usually accurate predictions for hurricane activity were off the mark last year. He had figured the 1989 season would be relatively mild, with only four hurricanes; instead, seven hurricanes and four tropical storms killed a total of 84 people.

″He blew it pretty bad,″ Sheets said. ″But then he looked at the rainfall over Africa, and found an amazing correlation between rainfall there and hurricane activity over Florida.″

Gray realized the 30-year drought in Africa’s Sahel region corresponds almost exactly to the years when no major hurricanes have struck the southeastern coast.

″Whether one causes the other is uncertain. They both may reflect larger- scale events. But the Sahel is now getting up to near-normal rainfall,″ Sheets said.

Gray plans to release his predictions for 1990 on June 5.

Tropical storms have been recorded in the Atlantic in every month except April, but are rare outside the June 1 to Nov. 30 season. Last week, a preseason tropical depression brought heavy rain to Cuba.

A tropical depression becomes a tropical storm and is given a name if its sustained winds reach 39 mph; it becomes a hurricane if winds reach 74 mph.

The names for Atlantic hurricanes and tropical storms this year are: Arthur, Bertha, Cesar, Diana, Edouard, Fran, Gustav, Hortense, Isidore, Josephine, Klaus, Lili, Marco, Nana, Omar, Paloma, Rene, Sally, Teddy, Vicky and Wilfred.

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