• Bryan Norcross


Just after 8:00 AM that Monday – August 24, 1992 – Hurricane Andrew crossed the southwest Florida coast south of Naples and headed into the Gulf of Mexico. The modern estimate is that the top winds had dropped to about 130 mph in the three-hour trip over the Everglades.

Andrew’s eye had become filled with clouds due to the circulation’s interaction with land. It was still very well organized, however, and the expectation was that the system would restrengthen over the Gulf.

By 2:00 PM, that was obviously happening as the eye started to clear out.

At 5:00 PM, the National Hurricane Center issue Hurricane Warnings for the Mississippi and southeastern Louisiana coasts, and a Hurricane Watch for the rest of the Louisiana coast west to Texas. NHC forecasters Max Mayfield and Lixion Avila were working in a severely wounded facility, but due to creative engineering and persistence, the alerts for the northern Gulf coast went out.

Even with the mega hurricane bearing down on Greater Miami, we were worried about New Orleans. It seemed likely that the Andrew would turn into the northern Gulf, and indeed that was the forecast.

There is a storied history of big hurricanes hitting South Florida and later landing a hard hit on New Orleans. In 1947, the so-called Fort Lauderdale Hurricane hit the Florida coast as a Category 4 and then made landfall at the mouth of the Mississippi River in Louisiana two days later as a Category 2. It passed directly over New Orleans causing widespread flooding and damage.

In 1965, Category 3 Hurricane Betsy passed over the Upper Florida Keys, but was very damaging and disruptive in Miami. Two days later it tracked just west of New Orleans creating scenes evocative of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina 40 years later. In fact, the flood-protection systems that failed in Katrina were (poorly) erected after the damage from Betsy.

That next morning, 30 years ago today – Tuesday, August 25, 1992 – the warnings we extended to Texas. At 10:00 AM Central Time they spanned all the way across Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas east of Houston. The concern was that Andrew would slide along the coast affecting a large swath and increasing the uncertainty where landfall would be.

Landfall was forecast the next morning, but it would be sooner or later depending on how far along the coastline Andrew tracked. Making it even more aggravating, the storm slowed down a bit, which added to the uncertainty.

Late that night, there were a couple of unanticipated changes. Andrew suddenly weakened over the shallow Gulf water along the Louisiana coast, and it turned north sooner than expected. Just offshore, the modern estimate is the top winds were 140 mph, but dropped to 115 mph in the two hours before landfall. It was still a powerful storm, but the feared Category 4 impact on Greater New Orleans had been avoided.

Hurricane Andrew made landfall at about 3:00 AM Central Time, August 26, 1992, over the marshes just east of Cypremort Point along the central Louisiana coast. It swept north through Louisiana quickly weakening to a tropical storm. Two days later it died out over the mountains of eastern Tennessee.

Fortunately, it avoided the population centers in Louisiana, but still losses in and around the state reached $2 billion. Flooding was extensive and some 14 tornadoes were reported including a deadly twister that hit La Place, Louisiana on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain.

The damage in Louisiana was dwarfed by the catastrophic impacts in Florida, but for people that lived through it, it was no less memorable.

Thirty years later we live with the lessons of Hurricane Andrew, and there were many. The most important one is, “The worst does happen.” Nobody that went through it or has studied Andrew will ever say, “They always weaken or turn away.” Because we know that’s true, except when it’s not.

AND IN 2022,

Two disturbances to watch for possible development next week

There are two disturbances of note in the tropics. One is just moving off Africa into the tropical Atlantic, and the other is just approaching the Caribbean islands. Neither system is likely to encounter a fertile environment to develop in the next few days, but by late next week, both systems might find more conducive conditions.

Disturbance #1 just east of the Caribbean is a broad, ill-defined cluster of showers. It will move into the Caribbean Sea tomorrow and mosey on toward the west. The upper-level winds are likely to limit any attempts at organization for the next few days, but toward the middle or the end of next week, the atmospheric pattern is forecast to become more conducive for development in the western Caribbean.

Forecasts for ill-defined disturbances like this one are always iffy and likely to change. It’s uncertain where thunderstorms might consolidate, if they do. Until that happens, there is no clear system to track.

Disturbance #2 is a large cluster of thunderstorms just moving from Africa into the Atlantic. It will initially be battling dry air, but later next week, it might tap into enough moisture that thunderstorms can persist. That’s a requirement for systems to develop a defined circulation.

In both cases, long-computer forecast models show mixed signals on what’s going to happen a week from now, but it’s not worth the energy to sort through them. The specific forecasts have no meaning anyway. We can see, however, that the weather pattern looks more conducive for tropical development by the end of next week.

It will be super unusual to go the whole month of August without a named storm, especially in a year with a well-established La Niña pattern in the Pacific. But there’s no reason the think that the atmospheric conditions that support tropical development won’t align in the near future.

Whether it happens next week or the week after is an open question, but the odds favor hurricane season kicking in soon.