Twin Anniversary of Hurricanes Irma and Luis, where do they Stand Among the Worst Hurricanes to Impact Antigua and Barbuda.

6 09 2021

By Dale C. S. Destin – 6 September, 2021 |

They both struck on September 5-6 after traversing over the warm waters of the Tropical North Atlantic. Twenty-six years to the day Hurricane Luis (1995) almost totalled Antigua and Barbuda; twenty-two years later, four years ago, Hurricane Irma (2017) did similarly to Barbuda.

Twenty-six years to the day Luis overwhelm our islands, with the centre partially passing over Barbuda and within 25 miles (40 km) of Antigua. Four years ago today, the date of Irma evoked memories of Luis, but it was no Luis.

Irma set a virtually unreachable bar for strength, but Luis set the record for size and cost. Luis was a great big giant while Irma was a mighty midget. The diameter of Irma’s hurricane-force winds was less than 75 miles (121 km) with a radius of less than 25 miles south of the centre. Contrastingly, the diameter for the hurricane-force winds of Luis was at least twice Irma’s, over 150 miles (241 km), with the hurricane force-wind extending about 50 miles (80 km) to the south.

Hurricane Irma on Sep 5 (top) and Hurricane Luis on Sep 3 (bottom) via NOAA satellites

Strength matters but clearly size matters more. Although both hurricanes took a similar journey through the area, Luis caused hurricane-force winds to reach both Antigua and Barbuda, whereas none reach Antigua from Irma. While in our neck of the woods, Luis had peak sustained winds of 140 mph (225 km/h) and Irma had 180 mph, 129% the strength of Luis but about 50% its size. This is what saved Antigua from the Category 5+++ wrath of Irma.

The actual paths of Hurricanes Irma and Luis courtesy NOAA Historical Hurricane Tracks

Antigua and Barbuda has been impacted by 14 major hurricanes, passing within 69 miles (111 km), on record dating back to 1851. There have been four in the last 26 years–Jose and Irma 2017, Georges 1998 and Luis 1995.

Meteo-France radar image showing the eye of Hurricane Irma passing over Barbuda, about 25 miles north of Antigua, 1:15 am (05:15 UTC) Wednesday Sep 6, 2017

A hurricane that compares well with Irma and Luis is Dog of 1950. Dog, also known as “the great hurricane of the central Atlantic”, came through as a Category 4 hurricane with wind of 130 mph (209 km/h). Its centre passed within 10  miles (16 km) of Antigua and within 15 miles (24 km) of Barbuda. Its powerful eyewall would have impacted both islands, like Luis 45 years later.

Prior to Luis, Dog was considered the most severe hurricane on record in Antigua and Barbuda. The damage caused by Dog amounted to up to US$1 million. In today’s currency, that is equivalent to US$8 million, paling in comparison to the US$100 to US$350 million (US$216 to US$755 million 2021) caused by Luis. Dog’s damage also pales in comparison to that of Irma’s US$136 million (US$153 million 2021). Total damage and loss from Irma were about US$155 million (US$174 million 2021).

Downtown St. John’s, Antigua with piles of galvanize

Irma ranks as the strongest hurricane to pass within 69 miles of Antigua in the record books, which dates back to 1851. Luis ranks sixth and Dog ranks seventh. Interestingly, 9 of the 14 major hurricanes passing less than 70 miles of Antigua and Barbuda occurred in the pre-climate change era–1980. The second and third strongest were in 1899 and 1928 respectively.

Major hurricanes to pass within 69 miles of Antigua and Barbuda 1851 to 2021. Multiply by 1.61 to get km/h
NOAA satellite image showing Barbuda in the eye of Irma 1:45 am (05:45 UTC) Wednesday, 6 Sep 2021

Congratulations to all who survived these hurricane nightmares, which I hate to call anniversaries. Let’s hope we don’t see another Luis or Irma-like major hurricane, which is perhaps wishful hoping. More realistically, let us prepare as much as possible to be hurricane strong i.e. hurricane resilient, so that we are able to put up a better fight to resist the next hurricane be it major or not.

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Correction: In the original blog post published on September 6, 2021, I mistakenly calculated the current day value of the damage and loss caused by Hurricanes Dog, Luis and Irma. I updated the post to fix the mistakes on September 13. Apologies for the miscalculations.


Potential Hurricane Scare Early Next Week

30 08 2016

Dale C.S. Destin |

A weather disturbance coming off West Africa will likely cause a scare to residents of the northeast Caribbean early next week. Two of the more reliable weather models are forecasting this disturbance to become tropical storm or hurricane later this week and track in the direction of the islands.

Tropical Disturbance Moving Off the West Coast of Africa - Aug 29, 2016

Tropical Disturbance Moving Off the West Coast of Africa – Aug 29, 2016

The preliminary forecast track has it moving on a westerly path, in line with the Leeward Islands, which includes Antigua and Barbuda. However, just before reaching the islands, it’s forecast to turn right or north away from the islands, which should spare us its wrath.


ECMWF Integrated Forecast System Showing at least an 80% Chance of a Tropical Cyclone Near the Northeast Caribbean Between Sep 4 and 6

Twenty-one years ago from September 5, 2016, Antigua and Barbuda experienced one of the most powerful hurricanes in its history – Category 4 Hurricane Luis. It brought death and major destruction to the islands. It left in its wake three dead and around US$350 million dollars in damage. It is easily our costliest hurricane in history.

The system that could cause us some stress is not being forecast to be a Luis, God forbid! However, its potential path and timing are reminiscent of Luis. It could be nearest us around September 5, just that this time, it should turn away sooner than Luis did and spare us this time.

The hurricane season runs until November 30. The forecast calls for 15 named storms, 7 hurricanes and 3 major hurricanes. Thus far, there have been seven named storms and three hurricanes, the last one being Gaston. The peak of the hurricane season is around September 10; however, for us, it’s around August 20 and September 3. Become hurricane strong by being prepared!

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20th Anniversary of Hurricane Luis

5 09 2015

Dale C. S. Destin |

Hurricane Luis at peak intensity on Sept 3, 1995

Hurricane Luis at peak intensity on Sept 3, 1995. Click to see animation

It’s September 5, the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Luis; the most destructive and costly hurricane in Antigua and Barbuda’s history. It was our Katrina.

Luis was a powerful Category 4 hurricane when its centre was nearest Antigua and Barbuda on September 5, 1995 around 8 am.

It formed on August 27, just south of the Cape Verde Islands and by September 3, Luis was a frightening Category 4 hurricane with winds of 150 mph. Gratefully, by the time the centre passed over Barbuda on September 5, it had weakened to a minimal but still a very potent Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of around 130 mph.

Luis pretty much thrashed Antigua and Barbuda with unrelenting

Track of Hurricane Luis

Track of Hurricane Luis

winds and rains (around 253 mm or 10 in) that lasted for portions of September 4 and 6 and all of September 5. At the end of the torturing ordeal, just about every building was damaged or destroyed.

Luis left a damage-trail across Antigua and Barbuda worth over US$100 million, according to our National Office of Disaster Service (NODS). Other sources indicate that the damage could have been over US$350 million or about two-thirds of gross domestic product (GDP), at that time.

The hurricane was directly or indirectly responsible for three deaths, injury to over 100 and left over 3000 homeless. Many had to remain in shelters for months.

Luis also ravaged the rest of the Leeward Islands, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and the northern Windward Islands.


I hate to refer to this as an anniversary; it’s more a nightmare that I would not wish on our worst enemy.

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