The Flood of Lenny

19 11 2018

Dale C. S. Destin |

Nineteen years ago today, we were in the midst of the greatest known flood of our recent history – November 17-19, 1999. Although pale in comparison, it was our modern-day closest to the Flood of Noah, brought on by Hurricane Lenny.


At the end of November 18, 1999, most parts of the Island would have seen over 200 mm (8 in) in two days. And by the end of the deluge, over 460 mm (18 in) in just three days. November 18-19, 1999 produced over 430 mm (17 in). At the V. C. Bird International Airport (VCBIA), 22.3 mm (0.90 in), 199.5 mm (7.9 in) and 241.8 mm (9.5 in) fell over the three days respectively – totalling a staggering 463.6 mm (18.25 in). For the same period, Jolly Hill, Bolans amassed even more – 624.8 mm (24.6 in).


Needless to say, this caused massive flooding and landslides across Antigua and Barbuda.  Roads were washed away and some beaches were severely eroded. It is estimated that up to 65% of Barbuda was under water, at some point during the flood. Similar types rainfall totals, flooding and landslides were seen across other northeast Caribbean islands, with in excess of 750 mm (30 in) falling across parts of St. Martin. 

Rainfall totals from Lenny. Compliments David Roth of NOAA

Not only is November 17-19 the wettest three-day period on record dating back to 1928, it is wetter than all months on record except for November 1999 and May 1987. It was like having all the rain for the first six months of the year falling in three days – almost unimaginable.

The deluge poured down by Lenny is quite rear for Antigua and Babuda – it has a less than 1% chance of occuring or happening once every 110 years on average.

The area was primed for flooding when less than a month earlier, Hurricane Jose came calling, dumping over 150 mm (over six inches) of rain in 48 hours – October 20 and 21. Further, in excess of a further 130 mm (over 5 in) fell between Jose and Lenny.

Noticed that I am focusing on the rains from Hurricane Lenny and not his winds. This is because, by the time the centre of Lenny reached between Antigua and Barbuda, around 8 pm November 19, it had rapidly weakened to a tropical storm with winds of around 105 km/h (65 mph). Thirty-six hours earlier, it was a Category 3 Hurricane. Peak sustained winds from the system at the VCBIA was 72 km/h (45 mph) with peak gust of 95 km/h (59 mph). There was very little wind damage, most of the damage was water related – flooding and mudslides.

Due to the rainfall from the Flood of Lenny, November 1999 is the wettest month on record with an island-average of 531.1 mm (20.91 in). A few areas, across southwest Antigua, got in excess of 760 mm (over 30 in).

Lenny remains the rarest of hurricanes. It was said he went the wrong way – travelling its entire lifespan (November 13-23) in a generally easterly direction from the western to the eastern Caribbean, then dissipating about 965 km (600 mi) east-northeast of Antigua. This is unprecedented as no other hurricane has ever similarly traverse virtually the entire Caribbean Sea travelling from west to east; normally they travel oppositely – east to west.


The Track of Hurricane Lenny – November 13-23, 1999

In our history dating back to 1851, Lenny is the only hurricane to affect us in November – passing within 120 miles of our islands. It is also the most powerful, latest forming, Atlantic hurricane on record, with peak winds of 155 mph – Category 4, on November 17. At that its peak, it was near St. Croix, 48 hours before passing between Antigua and Barbuda.  

Lenny is said to be responsible for 17 deaths and damage of around US$686 million dollars. Damge to Antigua and barbuda was estimated to be around US$50 million.

The Flood of Lenny is a once in a lifetime event. It had nothing on the Flood of Noah, but it is the closest distant comparison we have.  

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