• Bryan Norcross

HURRICANE ANDREW TIMELINE – LANDFALL TONIGHT

HURRICANE ANDREW TIMELINE – LANDFALL TONIGHT


Thirty years ago tonight – after midnight, early in the morning of Monday, August 24, 1992 – the world changed. Those of us that went through the storm divide our lives into before Andrew and after Andrew. All because of what happened on this night in 1992.


Hurricane Andrew moved through the Bahamas overnight and took dead aim on the southern part of Dade County, Florida. Today, the county is called Miami-Dade. The eyewall shrunk, the Gulf Stream provided fuel, and the atmospheric conditions came together to produce the epic event that Andrew became.


At 2:12 AM, the radar clearly showed that Andrew was strengthening. I realized if that continued, people in South Dade were going to have to do everything possible to find safety in their homes. That's when the idea of getting the mattress off the bed came to me. I've often wondered why I never thought of it before.



In all my thinking and planning for a major hurricane, I hadn’t imagined a storm this extreme. It was that scary radar that forced me to dig deeper for a solution. I dredged up an idea of using a mattress for protection from a book called “The Florida Hurricane Disaster” by L.F. Reardon. After the 1926 Great Miami Hurricane, he wrote down his family’s story – how they rode out the epic hurricane in their home in Coral Gables including using a mattress for protection. I got a lot of credit, but L.F. Reardon had the mattress idea first.


At 3:00 AM, the winds were starting to pick up outside the old WTVJ studios in downtown Miami. On the crude radar display we had then, I was not able to tell if we would be just inside or outside the northern edge of the donut of intense winds that was Andrew’s eyewall. I knew the winds would be stronger at the top of the skyscrapers, and the image of an air-conditioning unit flying off one of those buildings and through the roof of our old studio building flashed through my mind.



Anchor Kelly Craig and I discussed the idea of moving to a safer location live on TV and on radio, which was the only way most people could hear us by that time. Millions had already lost power. I realized that it could be an important message to people who were wavering about moving to an interior hallway, a closet, or a small bathroom in their home. And it worked.


At 3:30 AM, Kelly and I left the glossy news desk. The camera followed me into a storage area just off the studio that the floor crew had rigged with a monitor, microphones, and a phone. Tony Segreto, who had been the station’s sports anchor for decades but slid into the anchor chair like a glove, was already there. Soon Kelly Craig joined us, and that’s where the three of us rode out Hurricane Andrew.


Innumerable people later told me that that’s when they knew it was serious, and that realization caused them to take action. The move they made to a safer part of their house saved them from an even worse situation than they ended up encountering.


At about 4:00 AM, just as Andrew’s center was about to enter Biscayne Bay, a different color showed up in the top of the eyewall donut. In the image below from 4:30 AM, one of the last full scans of the Miami radar, you see it as white. On the TV view I was looking at, it was bright red – just due to display differences. I was afraid this was very bad news. An intense vortex had formed in the eyewall, which looked like it would rotate over the suburban areas of South Dade boosting Andrew’s already extreme winds. After the storm, it was shown that this cell and a few others caused much of the extreme damage.



At 4:38 AM, the final scan of the Miami radar was recorded. The wind was gusting to over 150 mph at the roof level of the 12-story high rise where the National Hurricane Center was located in Coral Gables. About 15 minutes later, the giant radar dish and the huge golf ball-like dome that protected it, which sat on a tall pedestal above the roof, couldn’t take the extreme forces. A deep thud reverberated through the NHC building when the giant steel dish crashed onto the roof, scaring everybody inside. The dome shattered – pieces were found on the other side of the neighboring hotel.



At the moment the radar failed, I was analyzing the scan live on TV. Suddenly, no more data was coming from the National Hurricane Center. I knew that somehow we had lost access to the radar. My initial thought was that the storm had cut the data feed, but about 20 minutes later we learned about the boom they felt in the Hurricane Center when the two-ton radar dish crashed onto the roof.


While this was going on, NHC forecaster Ed Rappaport was so focused on writing the 5:00 AM advisory he didn't remember the building shaking to its core. He, director Dr. Bob Sheets, and the entire staff were incredible that night and in the days after. They continued cranking out advisories as Andrew headed toward Louisiana, while many of them had damaged or destroyed homes in South Dade that had to be dealt with.


At 5:05 AM, August 24, 1992, Hurricane Andrew made landfall in mainland Dade County at a place called Fender Point - a little spit of land just east-northeast of what was then called Homestead Air Force Base. The center of the eye hit a little less than 20 miles south of downtown Miami, but the corridor of extreme damage extended 13 miles to the north.



The eye shows up clearly two minutes after the official landfall on the new doppler radar out of Melbourne, Florida some 180 miles to the north.


The economic heart of Miami – South Beach, the Port of Miami, the Brickell Avenue banking district, the airport, and other critical buildings and infrastructure – missed the devastating winds of the eyewall by 5 to 10 miles. It was that close.


The worst of the storm only lasted about three hours, but for three hours, Mother Nature was at war with South Dade. Mother Nature won the physical war - the damage was so extreme that pictures don't do it justice. But the storm also proved how strong people can be – stronger than even they imagined before they were thrust into the hellish aftermath of Andrew.


On this day 30 years later, we mourn the 15 people who were lost in the storm that night. And we remember the shocking scenes that first light revealed – a world ripped to shreds and changed forever. But we also celebrate the amazing people of South Dade who climbed the mountain of recovery that was so high it's impossible to describe even today. Here's to you, the real heroes of the Great Hurricane of 1992.


MORNING POST - HURRICANE ANDREW TIMELINE - 1 DAY UNTIL LANDFALL


Thirty years ago this morning - Sunday, August 23, 1992, we in South Florida were getting ready for Hurricane Andrew. It was coming that night. This was our only day to prepare. The day was mostly sunny, and there was a nice breeze in the afternoon. There was no sign that a monumental, life-changing hurricane was just over the horizon.


At 8:00 AM, the National Hurricane Center issued a Hurricane Warning for the Florida east coast from Vero Beach to the Miami area plus the Keys. Even with the storm less than a day away, intrinsic uncertainties in the forecasts of that era kept the area of concern large, even though Andrew was a compact storm.



Evacuations were ordered from the areas near the water.


That morning, Hurricane Hunters found a perfectly developed hurricane approaching the Bahamas. At 8:31 AM, a low-flying NOAA-12 satellite captured the iconic image of the magnificent but hellish storm you see here.



Winds were listed as 120 mph in the 5:00 AM advisory, as estimated from the aircraft measurements. Using the modern paradigm, which incorporates a better understanding of the structure of intense hurricanes, the top winds would have a been rated at 135 mph – already a Category 4. The forecast was for Andrew to continue to strengthen. The warm Gulf Stream waters were ahead.


Hurricane Andrew’s winds peaked at 175 mph by modern reckoning as it was approaching the Bahamas about 2:00 PM that Sunday.



Three hours later, the eye moved directly over the northern tip of Eleuthera Island. We watched with dread as it happened, but we had no contact with the area where the eye made landfall. We knew it had to be horribly bad, but we had big problems of our own. Hurricane Andrew was going to hit South Florida that night.



Even through the day on Sunday, we didn't know which part of South Florida would get the worst of it. Somehow many people got the message that Andrew was forecast to make landfall around the Dade/Broward County line. I don’t know where that came from, but I know that message got out. I’ve heard it over and over. It’s baked into Hurricane Andrew lore.


The National Hurricane Center never forecast that. Their forecasts jumped from north of Palm Beach County, to Boca Raton, to South Dade on Saturday as Andrew kept staying to the left of the predicted track. On that Sunday, the official forecast was locked on southern Dade County south of downtown Miami.


Even though the forecast was consistent through the day that Sunday, we still didn’t know where the corridor of damage was going to be. Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale, Aventura, Miami, or Homestead all seemed equally likely. But by evening it was clear.


The 11:00 PM public advisory from the National Hurricane Center included, “ON THIS PATH, THE CENTER OF ANDREW WILL CROSS THE COAST NEAR MIAMI, FLORIDA AROUND DAYBREAK MONDAY MORNING.”



We could no longer hope that Andrew was going to weaken or turn away. On TV I said, “It is going to happen for Dade County tonight.” And it did.


At midnight, the winds first reached tropical storm strength at the coast as an outer band swung through. And so it began. Andrew was on our doorstep.


To be continued later today.


NOW IN 2022...


The atmospheric environment over the tropical Atlantic is unusually hostile this year. Disturbances that move off Africa run into dry air and a less-than-optimum wind profile as they trek west toward the Caribbean islands. Currently the steering flow is weak, which increases the odds of hostile conditions impinging on the systems as the mosey along.


The large disturbance we have been watching appears to be developing something of a circulation, but thunderstorms are not well established. Likely dry air is wrapping into the system.


Another disturbance is due to move off Africa in a couple days. It is also likely to encounter excessive dry air.



The National Hurricane Center gives the disturbances a low chance of developing in the next five days. They are heading in the general direction of the northeastern Caribbean islands. If they survives that long, the projected environment closer to the Bahamas and the U.S. may be somewhat more conducive for development, so we’ll keep an eye on developments next week. Though forecasts for undeveloped systems that far in advance are fuzzy at best.


As a general statement, the ocean temperature and the upper-level winds continue to favor development, so a disturbance that can find a moist pocket of the atmosphere might well develop. Although it’s becoming likely there are other factors at work beyond the dry air prohibiting development.


The atmosphere is a complicated system, and sometimes a number of little factors gang up to make the weather unexpectedly extreme or surprisingly benign. In any case, as we saw 30 years ago in the slow hurricane season of 1992, sometimes conditions can suddenly come together to produce an off-the-charts storm. So vigilance is required for a couple more months no matter how busy the hurricane season is overall.