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Hurricane Georges 1998 in Puerto Rico Report

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Eyewall of Georges blasting in Luquillo, PR
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Photo by Jim Leonard

Hurricane Georges was the worst hurricane to hit Puerto Rico since hurricane "San Ciprian" in 1932. It was a category 3 intensity hurricane that crossed the entire island from east to west leaving destruction and damage all across.

Georges developed from a strong tropical wave that emerged from the west coast of Africa in the vicinity of the well known Cape Verde Islands which in September are a very common place for the development of strong tropical cyclones. A tropical depression was born in the morning of September 15th and 24 hours later it became tropical storm Georges, moving west in the far eastern Atlantic posing no inmediate threat to any land areas. The day later Georges steadily intensified becoming a hurricane. By September 19th Georges started a rapid-deepening process which led the storm to reach its peak of intensity in the morning of September 20th with max. sustained winds of 155mph/135kts and a minimun barometric pressure of 937mb, that happened when the storm was less than 300nm east of the Northern Leeward Islands. After this point the storm started a marked weakening trend with the pressure rising 26mb in less than 12 hours and the eye becoming less distinct. This weakening could be related to northerly upper-level wind shear that disrupted the structure of the hurricane due to an upper-level anticyclone located over the eastern Caribbean.

Then early in the morning of September 21st Georges made landfall in Antigua with top sustained winds of 115mph/100kts passing hours later over St. Kitts and Nevis still with the same intensity. With the intensity decreasing to 110mph/95kts shortly after passing St. Kitts and Nevis, Georges found better upper-level conditions with the shear diminishing and the outflow improving as the storm was approaching Puerto Rico. Later in that morning the eye of the hurricane moved over St. Croix, USVI and approaching Vieques, Puerto Rico. Satellite and radar images from Puerto Rico showed Georges becoming better organized as it was getting closer to Vieques. Georges passed over Vieques in the mid afternoon and around 6pm the eye of the hurricane made landfall in Eastern Puerto Rico with max. sustained winds of 115mph/100kts and a pressure of 967mb as the storm was intensifying and was back to category 3 intensity. This increase in the winds was based on 110mph/96kts sustained winds measrured in Fajardo, Puerto Rico when the eyewall of the storm came ashore, this report was the reason for increasing Georges back to category 3 intensity at landfall in Puerto Rico. In adition to that, the WSR-88D Doppler Radar in San Juan estimated sustained winds of 115mph/100kts when Georges was over Puerto Rico. Georges continued in a west/west-northwest direction over Eastern Puerto Rico with a very impressive eastern eyewall showed in the San Juan Radar. Georges passed 20nm south of San Juan at around 8pm, right over my hometown of Gurabo where the calm was experienced for more than 30 minutes followed by very turbulent and strong winds from the south asociated with the very strong eastern eyewall of the hurricane which lasted for several hours in my place. San Juan Intl. Airport (SJU) measured sustained winds of 79mph/69kts with a gust of 93mph/81kts at around 7:20pm of September 21st. The main reason for measuring lower winds in San Juas was the blockage of the Mountain Range south of the city, while cities like Caguas in Central Eastern, Puerto Rico where much affected by the strong winds also by the "Fujiwara Effect" of acceleration between mountains and valleys. The eye of the storm then continued moving now west over Central Puerto Rico and the land interaction for many hours caused the storm to weaken back to category 2 intensity with 110mph/95kts sustained winds as it was crossing the western part of the island. The eye of hurricane Georges left Western Puerto Rico at around 1am September 22nd still as a strong category 2 intensity hurricane 7 hours after landfall.

Georges continued over the Mona Passage passing over Mona and making landfall in Eastern Dominican Republic with sustained winds of 120mph/105kts and a pressure of 962mb later in the morning of September 22nd. The storm started to move in a more west-northwest direction over Dominican Republic passing just north of Santo Domingo and into the high mountains of Central Hispaniola. The storm lasted 21 hours over land weakening to 75mph/65kts in the morning of September 23rd making landfall later that day with the same intensity over Eastern Cuba. Still with a very impressive upper-level outflow, the storm left the north coast of Cuba by late afternoon September 24th and moving in a more northwesterly direction. Georges made landfall in Key West, Florida in the morning of September 25th with sustained winds of 105mph/90kts and a pressure of 981mb and then continued to move over the Gulf of Mexico intensifying further to 110mph/95kts and making its final landfall near Biloxi, Mississippi on the morning of September 28th with max. sustained winds of 105mph/90kts and a pressure of 964mb. Georges moved inland and became quasi-stationary being downgraded to tropical storm and dissipating early in the morning of October 1st.

 

Path of Destruction:

Georges was the second most destructive hurricane of the 1998 hurricane season after hurricane Mitch. A total of 602 deaths are directly assosiated to the path of the hurricane, this happened mainly in the Dominican Republic and Haiti due to the very heavy rains which caused a lot of flooding and mud slides as the storm came through Hispaniola.

In terms of damage, hurricane Georges left a path of destruction from the Leeward Islands to the USVI, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Haiti, Cuba, the Florida Keys and the states of Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and the florida Panhandle. In the United States the damages estimates are of nearly $6 billion dollars.

Puerto Rico was hard hit by Georges with up to 72,605 houses affected by the storm of which 28,005 houses were completely destroyed. More than 26,000 people took shelter during the storm and a very high number was still in shelters during the aftermath of the hurricane. A 95% of the banana crop was destroyed and 75% of the coffee crop was lost. The entire electric system of the island was shut down by the hurricane and nearly the entire island was also without water. So far only 30,000 customers lost telephone service manily due to the new fiber optic lines installed all around the island. The road infrastructure was very affected mainly by flooding and muslides. The total damage estimates for Puerto Rico are of $1,907,026,374.

Wind reports from official sites in Puerto Rico :

Location
Date-Time
Max. Sustained Wind (mph) / Direction
Max. Wind Gust (mph)
Ceiba-Roosevelt Roads
September 21st 7:02 PM AST & 6:49 PM AST
90 / Southeast
 107 / Southeast

Carolina, Luis Muñoz Marín Intl. Airport (TJSJ)

September 21st, 7:24 PM AST & 7:18 PM AST

 79 / Northeast

93 / Northeast

Wind reports from unofficial sites in Puerto Rico:

Location
Date-Time
Max. Sustained Wind (mph) / Direction
Max. Wind Gust (mph) / Direction
Fajardo (WP4MTG)
September 21st - 7:40 PM AST
113 1
 
Fajardo (Civil Defense)
September 21st - 5:15 PM AST & 5:30 PM AST
110 2
130
Isabela (KP4MYO)
September 22nd - 2:10 AM AST
102
164 3
Rincon
September 22nd - 12:45 AM AST
100 / East
130 / East
Quebradillas
September 21st - 10:44 PM AST
90
98

Naranjito

September 21st - 8:40 PM AST

 

125

1  Not known if actual measurement or estimate.
2  Highest known sustained wind reported in Puerto Rico.
3  Highest reported gust in Puerto Rico.
4  GMT + 0400 hours.

Lowest Pressure Reports from Puerto Rico

Location
Date - Time
Pressure (mb)
Vieques (K4FCZ)
September 21st - 4:20 PM AST
967.8 1
Ceiba (Roosevelt Roads)
September 21st - 5:45 PM AST
971.4
Cupey - Rio Piedras
September 21st
974.5
Mayaguez  (Bo. Guanajibo)
September 22nd
976.9
Carolina (TJSJ)
September 21st - 7:11 PM AST
979.7

1 Lowest pressure reported in Puerto Rico.

Highest Rainfall Amounts (inches) in Puerto Rico

Location
September 21st
September 22nd
Two-day Total
Lago El Guineo Damsite (Villalba)
9.79
14.83
24.62
Rio Saliente at Coabey (Jayuya)
7.59
16.71
24.30
Rio Portugues (Tibes)
4.31
14.15
18.46
Quebrada Salvatierra (San Lorenzo)
10.42
6.51
16.93
Rio Grande de Arecibo (Utuado)
3.88
12.99
16.87
Lago Garzas (Adjuntas)
3.90
9.59
13.49
Rio Espiritu Santo (Rio Grande)
10.02
3.02
13.04

It has to be noted that tornadic activity asociated with the path of the hurricane was reported in Puerto Rico with 3 tornadoes officially detected by the San Juan Doppler Radar located in Cayey.

Most of the information was recopilated from sources like the National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami and the San Juan National Weather Service (NWS).

Georges nearing its peak intensity of 155mph
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Photo: NOAA

Georges intensifying 2 hours prior to landfall PR
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Photo: NOAA

Radar of landfall of cat-3 hurricane Georges
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Photo: NWS San Juan

Track across Puerto Rico and USVI
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Photo: NWS San Juan

Impressive cloud structure, Georges nears its peak
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Photo: NOAA

San Juan Radar of Georges just prior to landfall
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Photo: NWS San Juan

Hours after landfall Georges moving inland
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Photo: NWS San Juan

Georges passing over Key West
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Photo: NOAA

For damage photos of hurricane Georges in Puerto Rico CLICK HERE

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