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Bertha - 1996
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HURRICANE BERTHA

bertha96.jpg
Hurricane Bertha Prior to Landfall in North Carolina

A tropical wave moved off the coast of Africa into the eastern Atlantic Ocean on the first day of July. When the storm was about 500 miles south of the Cape Verde Islands, a weak circulation was detected, and the wave reached depression status on July 5, becoming Tropical Depression One. The depression tracked along a typical swift path to the WNW, and strengthened to Tropical Storm Bertha later on the 5th. Light wind shear and increasingly warmer waters allowed Bertha to continue strengthening, and the storm reached hurricane strength late on July 7 as it neared the northern tip of the Lesser Antilles. Bertha passed through the Virgin Islands on July 8 with winds of 85 mph, and then through the northern Lesser Antilles passing over Antigua and Barbuda. The storm took a slight turn more to the north on July 9, which kept the storm further away from Puerto Rico as it suddenly began to rapidly intensify. The winds reached 115 mph when the storm was located about 120 miles north of Puerto Rico; fortunately the island only received tropical storm force winds from Bertha. The storm weakened to a Category 2 later on the 9th as it neared the Bahamas, and then weakened to a Category 1 as it approached them on July 10. At this time, the storm took another quick turn further to the north, preventing a direct strike to the Bahamas, and a landfall in Florida. The turn was not enough to keep the storm away from the United States all together though, and Bertha made landfall near Wrightsville, North Carolina late on July 12 with Category 2 winds of 105 mph. After landfall, Bertha weakened quickly from its interaction with land, and was downgraded to a tropical storm early on July 13. The storm was able to hang on to tropical storm status, however, as it turned to the north east and moved nearly parallel to the coastline while still on land. As the storm passed over the northeast United States, it brought gusty winds and rains with it. Bertha finally became extratropical on July 14 when it began to cross into Canada. Bertha killed a total of 12 people; one on Florida, two in North Carolina, one in NJ, three in Puerto Rico, and other deaths in the northern Lesser Antilles. The United States Virgin Islands, as well as North Carolina, were declared federal disaster areas, with about 2,500 homes damaged in St. Thomas and St. John. 750,000 people were evacuated in South and North Carolina, and 5,000 homes were damaged. Despite the destruction and casualties, damages only totaled 270 million dollars in the United States. The name Bertha was not retired, and was used again in 2002.

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