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Hurricane Charley

This article is about the hurricane of 2004. For other storms of the same name, see Hurricane Charley (disambiguation).

Hurricane Charley was the third named storm, the second hurricane, and the second major hurricane of the 2004 Atlantic hurricane season. It caused major damage to parts of Cuba as it crossed the island as a Category 3 hurricane, and strengthened further before reaching the U.S. It made landfall west of Fort Myers, Florida, as a Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. It was the strongest hurricane to strike the area since Hurricane Donna in 1960 and the strongest hurricane to strike Florida since Hurricane Andrew in 1992. After following the East Coast of the U.S., it eventually dissipated near Cape Cod.

Storm history

Charley was initially a well-developed tropical wave approaching the Windward Islands. On August 9, while around 50 miles (80 km) southeast of Grenada, this wave organized enough to become the third tropical depression of the year. After crossing the islands into the eastern Caribbean Sea, the depression strengthened further, becoming Tropical Storm Charley on the morning of August 10.

The storm moved rapidly across the Caribbean, and reached hurricane strength on August 11, 90 miles (150 km) south of Kingston, Jamaica. Hurricane Charley then passed just south of Jamaica, and the next morning passed between Grand Cayman and Little Cayman. On the night of August 12, Charley passed just east of the Isle of Youth, then over mainland Cuba, just west of downtown Havana as a category 3 hurricane with winds estimated at 120 miles per hour.

After passing over Cuba, Charley weakened slightly (down to 110 mph) and crossed the Straits of Florida. Around 9 a.m. EDT, Charley passed over the Dry Tortugas. Tropical storm force winds of 41 miles per hour (65 km/h) were recorded at Key West International Airport, 70 miles (115 km) east.

The course Charley took at this time caught many by surprise. Instead of following the predicted track through the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, Charley made an abrupt turn to the northeast, heading for Fort Myers and Sanibel Island. This track was well within the official forecast's margin of error, and NHC forecaster intern Robbie Berg publicly blamed the media for misleading residents of areas further south [1],1282,64590,00.html .

At the same time as it turned, Charley rapidly strengthened, going from a Category 2 storm at 110 miles per hour (170 km/h) with a central pressure of 965 millibars to a Category 4 storm at 150 miles per hour (235 km/h) with a central pressure of 941 millibars in only three hours. This rapid intensification was outside the official forecast, which called for only a slight strengthening before landfall. The change in strength was so drastic that the NHC issued a special hurricane advisory outside of its normal schedule. It is possible that the winds were even stronger at landfall, possibly at or near Category 5 strength (155 miles per hour or 250 km/h), based on later images and assessments.

Charley became the second tropical storm to strike Florida in 24 hours when Tropical Storm Bonnie struck the Florida panhandle in Apalachicola at 11 a.m. EDT on August 12, 22 hours before Charley went over the Dry Tortugas. This made 2004 the first year two named storms have struck the same state in the same 24-hour period since 1906. Mainland landfall occurred only 29 hours apart.

At 3:45 p.m. EDT, Charley made landfall at Cayo Costa, north of Fort Myers. Charley moved inland near Charlotte Harbor shortly afterwards.

Near midnight local time, Charley began moving back over water, exiting Florida near Daytona Beach. It returned to land around 11 a.m. near North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina still retaining hurricane strength. Charley continued to run off and on land up the East Coast of the United States, and dissipated near Cape Cod around mid-day on August 15.

Charley's strongest gusts were measured at 180 miles per hour (290 km/h) at Punta Gorda.


One death in Jamaica, four deaths in Cuba, and 10 deaths in the United States were directly attributed to Charley. Numerous injuries were reported, as well as 16 indirect deaths in the US.

Property damage from Charley was estimated by the NHC at $14 billion. This makes Charley the second most costly hurricane in American history, behind Hurricane Andrew's $26 billion in 1992, and above Hurricane Hugo's $7 billion ($9.4 billion in 2000 dollars) in 1989.

Damage in Cuba has been estimated at over $1 billion USD. [2]

As many as two million people were initially reported without power in Florida, and a week after landfall it was estimated that about 240,000 were still without power. The Tampa Electric Company cut power in downtown Tampa to avoid potential damage to the underground power grid from short circuits, caused by the storm surge of conductive seawater. Havana's power was also knocked out by Charley when it passed by. Over a million Florida residents were evacuated.

Mandatory evacuation of non-residents, recreational vehicles, mobile home residents, and special needs residents from the Florida Keys was ordered. An evacuation order for the coastal areas of Lee County was also issued. Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco and Sarasota Counties all had mandatory evacuations for areas prone to the effects of storm surge.

President George W. Bush declared Florida a federal disaster area, and Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina declared a state of emergency, ordering an evacuation of two coastal counties, including Myrtle Beach.

Theme parks in Orlando, including Universal Orlando, Seaworld and Disney's parks closed early; Disney's Animal Kingdom never opened at all, making this only the second time Disney's parks have closed due to a hurricane (The first was during Hurricane Floyd.[3] ). Ironically, Hurricane Charley closed the Typhoon Lagoon park longer than the Magic Kingdom and EPCOT. The parks, except for Animal Kingdom and other areas, reopened on Saturday, August 14 with limited staff.

Public schools in some counties in the path of the hurricane were scheduled to be closed for two weeks.[4] In some areas this was necessary because the school buildings were damaged or destroyed (especially in Charlotte County). In other parts of Florida, no power or water was yet available.

Agricultural losses were heavy. Florida is the second-largest producer of oranges in the world and the storm damaged one-third of the state's orange groves. The loss to the citrus crop was estimated at $150 million. The loss could reach one-quarter of the total crop. Other crops and agricultural buildings and equipment also suffered.

External links

  • Hurricane Charley Advisory Archive
  • NHC August Monthly Tropical Weather Summary - includes figures for damages and fatalities
  • Lack of a standard places Charley's deaths in question

Last updated: 02-07-2005 15:09:43
Last updated: 05-03-2005 17:50:55