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Georges - 1998
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HURRICANE GEORGES

georges1998.jpg
Hurricane Georges Near the Florida Keys

A tropical wave moved off the west coast of Africa late on September 13. A well organized cloud pattern was detected over the system on September 14, and ship reports on the 15th showed that the wave had a closed circulation. It became Tropical Depression Seven midday on the 15th when located about 300 miles south of the Cape Verde Islands in the extreme eastern Atlantic. The depression traversed westward through the Atlantic, and gradually became more impressively organized. It became Tropical Storm Georges on September 16 when located about 620 miles WSW of the Cape Verde Islands. Georges remained on a very steady track to the WNW under a ridge to the north, and strengthened very gradually in the Atlantic waters. It became a hurricane late on September 17, when located about midway between Africa and the Lesser Antilles. Despite favorable conditions, Georges did not strengthen rapidly as many other Cape Verde Storms did, instead it took its time and reached Category 2 status on September 18. The strengthening finally quickened in pace late on the 18th, and by early on the 19th, Georges was a powerful and large Category 4 storm with a clear and organized eye. The storm peaked early on September 20 with winds of 155 mph, putting it on the verge of Category 5 strength, and a pressure of 937 mbar, which is a bit on the high end for a storm of that intensity. Nonetheless, Georges was an extremely powerful, dangerous, and potentially deadly storm as it neared the northern Lesser Antilles on the 20th.

Fortunately, gradually increasing wind shear began to weaken the storm after it reached its peak intensity, and the storm struck Antigua and St. Kitts and Nevis with winds of just 115 mph, however the storm was still a Category 3 hurricane. On September 21, a low was detected over Cuba, which reduced the possibility of the storm turning to the northwest and staying clear of Puerto Rico. And so, Georges struck Cuba with winds of 115 mph on the evening of September 21. After moving inland over the island, it weakened further, and moved into the Mona Passage early on the 22nd. Georges re-intensified slightly over the Mona Passage before striking the Dominican Republic near Santo Domingo with winds of 120 mph. The mountainous terrain of Dominican Republic wreaked havoc on the storm, and Georges weakened significantly to a Category 1 storm, but still caused torrential rains and mudslides over Haiti as it progressed over Hispaniola. Georges emerged in the Windward Passage between Cuba and Hispaniola on the morning of September 23, still clinging to hurricane status.

The storm made a fifth landfall in Cuba near Guantanamo Bay with winds of 75 mph on that day, and brushed the northern coast for the rest of the day before emerging in the Atlantic off the north coast of Cuba on September 24. The storm maintained a "fairly impressive" outflow pattern as it traversed Cuba and Hispaniola, despite the interaction with land. Once again over water, Georges intensified, but gradually and slowly. The center became more organized on September 25 with a flare of convection, and it became a Category 2 storm before striking Key West, Florida with winds of 105 mph that day. As it moved into the Gulf of Mexico, it turned to the northwest and slowed in speed, but failed to strengthen beyond Category 2 status. Georges made its anticipated landfall near Biloxi, Mississippi on the morning of September 28, packing winds of 105 mph and a pressure of 964 mbar. The storm slowed greatly after landfall, and nearly stalled over southern Mississippi and was downgraded to a tropical storm that day. On September 29, it picked up speed to the east as a tropical depression, and moved in that direction across the southeastern United States before being absorbed into a frontal zone just before emerging in the Atlantic Ocean on October 1.

Georges was a highly destructive and deadly storm. A grand total of 602 people were killed due to the storm, making it the 19th deadliest storm in the Atlantic Basin in the 20th Century. The majority of the deaths occurred in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, where flash flooding and subsequent mudslides caused widespread devastation. The total from the island of Hispaniola comes to 589. Only one death was reported in the United States, due to flooding in Mobile, Alabama. The majority of the property damage occurred in Puerto Rico, where considerable damage to homes was reported throughout the island, with a total of 72,605 homes being damaged, and about 28,005 completely destroyed. Over 26,000 people were in shelters as the hurricane struck. In the Dominican Republic, more than 185,000 people were left homeless by the storm, and 100,000 remained in shelters through October of that year. In Cuba, a total of 60,475 homes were damaged, with 3,481 completely destroyed despite the fact that Georges was a weakening hurricane when it struck the island. Major losses in the banana and coffee crop were reported in both Cuba and Puerto Rico. Total damages were estimated at 5.9 Billion with over half of that figure occuring in Puerto Rico. In the United States, effects from Georges were far less severe. The American Red Cross spent over 104 million dollars on relief services in The United States, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, The Florida Keys, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi. This makes the storm the most expensive disater for the organization's 117 year history.

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