The Hurricane Season in July Stand By

5 07 2020

Dale C. S. Destin |

Updated July 7, 2022

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.  

134 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 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 storm – a tropical storm or hurricane, in July is around 3 percent. This means that we are impacted by a named storm every 33 years, on average; hence, we are not due for a named storm, in July, for another seven years.

Surprisingly, we have never been affect by a tropical cyclone in July when there was and La Niña, as there is now. The same is true when there is an El Niño; it is Neutral ENSOs that bring us tropical cyclones in July.

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 25 named storms, 7 of which were hurricanes and 1 major hurricane – Category 3 Hurricane Emily of 2005, the strongest to pass through the islands in July.

Satellite image of Category 5 Hurricane Emily south of Jamaica – 16 July, 2005
The track of Category 5 Hurricane Emily – July, 2005
Storms to have pass through the Eastern Caribbean – 1851 to 2021

Elsa of 2021 is the last hurricane to impact the Caribbean in July and the strongest since Emily. It’s centre passed just south of Barbados and then just north of St. Vincent, significantly impacting those islands. It then travelled west-northwest across the Caribbean Sea, impacting Hispaniola, Jamaica and Cuba, as a tropical storm.

Elsa became the first tropical cyclone to cause sustained hurricane-force winds to impact Barbados since Janet of 1955. The system caused a total of 13 deaths and at least US$1.2 billion dollars in damage. One persons was killed in Martinique, two in the Dominican Republic, ten in the United States. In Barbados, more than 1,300 homes were damaged, including 62 homes which were completely destroyed. 

Elsa going from Tropical Storm to a Category 1 Hurricane and impacting Barbados and the Windward Islands on 2 July 2021

The probability of a hurricane impacting the Eastern Caribbean annually, in July, is around 6%. This means that the region gets a hurricane every 16 years, on average. With the last hurricane occurring last year, we are not due for another hurricane in July for another 15 years. The probability of a hurricane in July, across the central and western Caribbean is a little higher – 10%.

Overall, July averages one named storm per year, a hurricane every other year and a major hurricane every 6 to 7 years. 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 134 named storms of which 62 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 Martinique, St Lucia and St Vincent on August 3 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 Eastern Caribbean to the United States. 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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