The Hurricane Season in July Stand By

5 07 2020

Dale C. S. Destin|

Unlike June, we have been impacted by tropical cyclones – tropical depressions, tropical storms or hurricanes, in July. Hence, as the 1898 poem by R. Inwards said “stand by” for news of storms that may be coming our way. Notwithstanding, July is still a relatively slow month for tropical cyclone activity.

The last hurricane to impact Antigua and Barbuda, in July, was Hurricane Bertha of 1996. Bertha hit while we were still recovering from one of our busiest hurricane seasons in modern times – 1995, the year of Hurricanes Luis (Category 4) and Marilyn and Tropical Storm Iris.  

139 named storms for July with Hurricane Bertha of 1996 highlighted

The centre of Bertha passed just south of Barbuda, likely causing the island to experience all its 137 km/h (85 mph) winds it was packing, at the time. Passing north of Antigua, the system caused peak sustained winds of only 63 km/h (39 mph). Damage to Antigua was minimal but unclear for Barbuda. Regardless of the damage, the psychological trauma would have been extreme for many, coming 10 months after the horror of Luis.

Bertha also caused damage across the rest of the Leeward Islands, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the East Coast of the United States and Canada. The system also caused a total of 12 fatalities and at least US$330 million in damage.

Category 3 Hurricane Bertha – July 9, 1996

The probability of us (Antigua and Barbuda) being impacted by a named strom – a tropical storm or hurricane, in July is around 3 percent for all seasons and around 5 percent during the active period being experienced by the Atlantic since 1995. This means that we are impacted by a named storm every 33 years, on average.

The probability of us being impacted by a hurricane is the same as indicated above for named storms. In our history, there have been six named storms of which one was a hurricane – Bertha.

July is also a relatively slow month for tropical cyclone activity, across the Eastern Caribbean. The region has seen 22 named storms, 6 of which were hurricanes and 1 major hurricane – Category 3 Hurricane Emily of 2005, the strongest to pass through the islands in July.

Storms to have pass through the Eastern Caribbean – 1851 to 2019

Emily is also the last hurricane to impact the Caribbean in July. It passed just north of Tobago, then the centre passed over the southern tip of Grenada. It then travelled west-northwest across the Caribbean Sea, brushing Jamaica as a Category 5 hurricane before slamming into the Yucatan as a Category 4 hurricane.

Satellite image of Category 5 Hurricane Emily south of Jamaica – 16 July, 2005
The track of Category 5 Hurricane Emily – July, 2005

It left death and or damage and destruction in its wake stretching from Trinidad to Texas. One person was killed in Grenada and Honduras, five in Jamaica, Haiti and Mexico, amounting to a total of 17 fatalities. Total damage from Emily was over US$1 billion, with the Caribbean accounting for over US$200 million.

The probability of a hurricane impacting the Eastern Caribbean annually, in July, is 6%. This means that the region gets a hurricane every 16 years, on average. With the last hurricane occurring in 2005, we are one year short of being due one, in July. The probability for a hurricane in July, across the central and western Caribbean is a little higher – 10%.

The zones of origin and tracks of storms in July during the hurricane season

Overall, July averages one named storm per year, a hurricane every other year and a major hurricane every 6 to 7 years. The last named storm and hurricane was Barry of 2019; the last major hurricane was Bertha of 2008 and the last Category 5 hurricane was Emily of 2005.

Based on record since 1851, July has produced 139 named storms of which 66 became hurricanes and 12 became major hurricanes. We note that there are likely storms that were missed prior to the Satellite era – prior to the mid-1960s. For the current standard climate period – 1981 to 2010, there have been 33 named storms, with 16 becoming hurricanes and 5 becoming major hurricanes.

July has had a maximum of 5 named storms in a given year – 2005. On two occasions, there have been 3 hurricanes – 1966 and 1916. Further, on two occasions there were two major hurricanes – 2005 and 1926.

The strongest hurricane on record – Hurricane Allen of 1980, formed on July 31. It slammed Barbados on August 3, with Category 3 winds and Martinique, St. Lucia and St. Vincent, with Category 4 winds. It then reached Category 5 in the Eastern Caribbean Sea before pummelling parts of the Dominica Republic, Haiti, Jamaica and Cuba, on August 6. Allen then reach maximum strength of 306 km/h (190 mph) near the western tip of Cuba, on August 7. Earlier on that day, it severely impacted parts of the Cayman Islands.

Category 5 Hurricane Allen of 1980 – the strongest Atlantic hurricane on record

It goes without saying that Allen left a long trail of death and or damage and destruction from Barbados to Texas. Some damage was catastrophic, for example, St Lucia had 6 fatalities and over US$230 million in damage. Deaths from Allen totalled 269 and damage over US$1.5 billion.

Unlike May and June, above normal tropical cyclone activity in July normally signals a busy hurricane season. What will this July bring? We can’t be sure, but the forecast is for an above normal season. Whatever it brings, let’s be prepared! Be hurricane strong!

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