Hurricane Hugo: Wikis


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Hurricane Hugo
Category 5 Hurricane (SSHS)

Hurricane Hugo before landfall on South Carolina
Formed September 9, 1989
Dissipated September 25, 1989
160 mph (260 km/h) (1-minute sustained)
Lowest pressure 918 mbar (hPa; 27.11 inHg)
Fatalities 56 direct
Damage $10 billion (1989 USD)
$17.2 billion (2010 USD)
Guadeloupe, Antigua, Montserrat, Dominica, British Virgin Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, North Carolina, most of eastern North America
Part of the
1989 Atlantic hurricane season

Hurricane Hugo was a destructive Category 5 hurricane that struck Guadeloupe, Montserrat, St. Croix, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Antigua and North Carolina in September of the 1989 Atlantic hurricane season. It killed 109 people, left nearly 100,000 homeless, and $10 billion in damage overall, making it the most damaging hurricane ever recorded at that particular time. This surpassed the previous record of Hurricane Frederic, although Hugo itself was surpassed by Hurricane Andrew three years later. The hurricane caused $7 billion ($16.3 billion in 2006 USD) in damages within the mainland United States alone.

Hugo developed from a tropical wave that moved off the coast of Africa on September 9. The storm tracked westward, and became a tropical storm on the 11th, and a hurricane on the 13th. It reached its peak intensity as a Category 5 hurricane, and moved toward the United States. Hugo made landfall in South Carolina as a Category 4.


Meteorological history

Storm path

Hugo's origins were from a cluster of thunderstorms that moved off the coast of Africa on September 9.[1] It was soon classified as a tropical depression; therefore Tropical Depression Eleven. Winds were initially 30 mph (48 km/h) but they soon went up to 35 mph (56 km/h). On a westward track, Tropical Depression Eleven steadily intensified, becoming a tropical storm on September 11 at 1800 UTC, it received the name Hugo and it was therefore, Tropical Storm Hugo on the 11th. The maximum sustained winds were soon at hurricane force, so it became Hurricane Hugo on September 13.[1] A low pressure area caused Hurricane Hugo to gradually turn to the west-north west. Shortly after, Hugo began to rapidly intensify, Hurricane Hugo began to intensify at a faster rate, and by 24 hours after it was classified as a hurricane it had become a category 2 hurricane. After this point, Hurricane Hugo began to rapidly deepen, becoming a major hurricane early the next morning.[2]

Hurricane Hugo briefly reached category 5 hurricane intensity on September 15. This had occurred on September 15 at 1800 UTC and it was also its peak intensity. Its maximum sustained winds had increased to 160 mph (260 km/h) and the minimum central pressure had dropped to 918 mbar. Hurricane Hugo weakened somewhat back to a category 4 hurricane afterwords. On September 17, Hurricane Hugo crossed over Guadeloupe while its winds were near 140 mph (230 km/h). Less than 24 hours later, Hugo made another landfall on the island of St. Croix, winds speeds were the same. That same day, Hurricane Hugo also made two landfalls in Puerto Rico, in Vieques and Fajardo, though it was slightly weaker.[2]

Hurricane Hugo began to accelerate to the north-northwest soon after leaving eastern Puerto Rico.[1] On the 18th, Hugo was located a couple hundred miles east of Florida, when it began a more northward track, in response to a steering flow that was associated with an upper-level low pressure area that was moving across the southeastern United States and it soon began to turn on a more northwestern track.[1] Hurricane Hugo then began to strengthen and it reached a secondary peak at 1800 UTC on September 21, the maximum sustained winds were at 140 mph (230 km/h), while the minimum central pressure was at 944 mbar. On September 22 at 0400 UTC, Hurricane Hugo made landfall on Isle of Palms, South Carolina, as a Category 4 on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale and the winds were still at 140 mph (230 km/h).[1] The storm continued inland, and weakened to a tropical storm later that day.[1] The storm continued weakening as it moved inland, and on September 23, the storm was making its transition into a remnant low. Its remnant low continued to accelerate and reached the far northern Atlantic before they dissipated on September 25.[3]


A total of 30 warnings were issued in association with Hurricane Hugo, this included several tropical storm watches and warnings, also hurricane watches and hurricane warnings, with an additional gale warning was issued. Many of these watches were ultimately upgraded to a warning as Hugo approach that area. The only gale warning was issued in the United States on September 23 at 0500 UTC from New Jersey to New England.[4][5]

The first alert was a hurricane watch and it was issued on September 15 at 1900 UTC for island from St. Lucia to St. Martin and also included the British Virgin Islands. By 2200 UTC the hurricane watch was upgraded to a hurricane warning. At the same time, a hurricane watch was issued for the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. That too was upgraded to a hurricane warning about 20 hours thereafter. A hurricane watch was issued and it was eventually upgraded to a hurricane warning on Dominican Republic on September 18, despite the fact that Hurricane Hugo bypassed the island of Hispaniola by over 230 mi (370 km).[4]

In the United States the first alert was issued on September 20 at 2200 UTC. It was a hurricane watch that stretched from Cape Lookout, North Carolina to Saint Augustine, Florida. The portion of it from Fernandina Beach, Florida to Cape Lookout was upgraded to a hurricane warning by 1000 UTC on September 21. Late on September 21 and early on September 22 most of the more southern watches and warnings were cancelled, though more were issued to the north of Cape Lookout, like in Virginia, Chesapeake Bay, and Delaware. Everything had been cancelled by 1600 UTC on September 22, with the exception of that single gale warning.[5]

Savannah was evacuated in anticipation of Hugo, but saw no effects of the storm other than isolated and light showers. Had Hugo hit Savannah, it would have been the first major hurricane to make landfall in Georgia since Storm 7 of the 1898 season. Governor Carroll Campbell of South Carolina ordered an evacuation of the South Carolina coast in advance of the storm.[6]


Storm deaths by region
Region Deaths
United States 37
Puerto Rico 12
Guadeloupe 13
Montserrat 22
Virgin Islands 6
Antigua and Barbuda 10
Saint Kitts and Nevis 11
Total 111

Hugo caused $7 billion (1989 USD) in damage in the mainland United States. At the time it was the costliest hurricane in U.S. history, but was exceeded in 1992 by Hurricane Andrew, and by three other storms since then. It remains the sixth costliest hurricane in U.S. history. An additional $3 billion of damages was reported throughout the Caribbean. Therefore, total damages from the storm were $10 billion (1989 USD).[8]

Sources differ on the number of people killed by Hugo, with some citing the American Meteorological Society's figure of 49, and others claiming 56 deaths.[9] Some government agency sources claim only 32 deaths in the United States.[citation needed]



Severe damage was reported throughout the islands of the Caribbean. The storm caused an estimated $3 billion (1989 US dollars) in damages in the Caribbean (including $1 billion in Puerto Rico and the USVI.[8]

St. Croix

The slower speed allowed Hugo to punish the island of St. Croix with the worst beating of any location along the hurricane's destructive path. At 2 am local time on September 18, 1989, Hurricane Hugo's eyewall struck St. Croix, bringing incredibly ferocious Category 4 winds, sustained at 140 mph (230 km/h). The hurricane's gusts were remarkably violent, and many residents witnessed tornado-like vorticies barreling across the island as the hurricane raged about them. A storm surge of 2–3 feet (0.61–0.91 m), topped by battering waves 20–23 feet (6.1–7.0 m) high, assaulted the coast, adding to the destruction. Wunderground member Mike Steers wrote and described his experience on St. Croix during Hurricane Hugo: "Hugo was incredible. Many vortexes came in that night. The roar and intensity of the winds that night were incredible. When the eyewall came over, we were forced to take refuge in the bathroom as the rest of the house came apart. The pressure was so low outside the house that all of the water was sucked out of the toilet and an air draft was created through the toilet. Just when I thought it was as bad as it would get, the intensity of it all dialed up even higher. Dozens and dozens of times, my ears would violently pop due to rapid pressure changes. The next morning, of course, the devastation was unbelievable. In my front yard was a 18-foot boat with an outboard on it, that had been picked up from a marina two miles away. I had lost my house, and job, the Seaplane company I was a pilot for. After a couple months, I had to leave everything behind. In some respects, after 20 years, there an many aspects of the society that have yet to recover". Two people were killed on St. Croix, 80 injured, and 90% of the buildings were damaged or destroyed. Damage estimates for St. Croix were astronomical, over $1 billion, and the island's entire infrastructure was virtually wiped out. Six weeks after the hurricane, only 25% of the public roads had been cleared, and only 25% of the island had power.

There was massive looting and unrest, prompting President George H.W. Bush to send troops to St. Croix in Operation Hawkeye.[10] It also resulted in the first operational deployment of the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS), when the New Mexico-1 Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT)was deployed to assist in medical care needs of the stricken island.[citation needed]


Most intense landfalling Atlantic hurricanes in the United States
based on size and intensity for total points on the Hurricane Severity Index
Rank Hurricane Year Intensity Size Total
1 Carla 1961 17 25 42
2 Hugo 1989 16 24 40
Betsy 1965 15 25 40
4 Camille 1969 22 14 36
Katrina 2005 13 23 36
Opal 1995 11 25 36
7 Miami 1926 15 19 34
8 Audrey 1957 17 16 33
Fran 1996 11 22 33
Wilma 2005 12 21 33
Source: Hurricane Severity Index

At 1 am AST on September 17, 1989, Hurricane Hugo made a direct hit Guadeloupe, pounding the island with Category 4 sustained winds of 140 mph. A storm surge of up to 2.5 meters (8 feet) topped by high battering waves smashed ashore. Hugo wreaked massive devastation on Guadeloupe, especially in Grande-Terre, destroying 10,000 homes while a total 30% of buildings suffering great damages including business, hotels, schools and churches, leaving 35,000 of the island's 340,000 people homeless. Five people died and 107 were injured. An additional seven people were killed three days after the storm when a medical helicopter crashed while evacuating victims. Hugo's winds knocked the airport control tower out of commission, and almost completely destroyed the town of St. François, on the island's eastern end. Debris blocked at least 30% of the island's roads. Agriculture suffered massive losses that took years to recover from, as Hugo flattened 100% of the banana crop, 60% of the sugar cane crop, and ruined nearly all of the island's coconut palms. Most of the island's fishing fleet was wiped out, and total damage to the island from Hugo amounted to $880 million 1989 USD.

Raizet Airport had a 90 mph (144 km/h) sustained winds and a 117 mph (187 km/h) sustained gust. Minimal pressure fell to 943 mb (27.85 In Hg) as the eye passed after midnight.[citation needed]

In a navy boat in Pointe-à-Pitre bay, gusts reported to reach 184 mph (296 km/h) and unofficials station reached 200 mph (320 km/h) in Grande-Terre.[citation needed]

Hugo was the worst storm since Hurricane Cleo in 1964 and Hurricane Inez in 1966 and the strongest hurricane to hit the island since the legendary 1899 Hurricane San Ciriaco, the longest-lived Atlantic hurricane of all time, which brought 150 mph winds to the islands.[citation needed]


90% of all structures were destroyed in the British overseas territory, including the island's hospital and virtually all the homes of its 12,000 residents. Tourism and agriculture were also severely hit. Total damage was estimated at $100–300 million dollars (1989 USD); the island became reliant on aid as a result.[11][12]

Additionally, the local bat population was devastated, with an estimated 90% decrease in numbers following Hugo's passage. The species Chiroderma improvisum has not been seen on Montserrat since, and it is feared that it may be extinct on the island.[13]

Puerto Rico

Rainfall totals from Hugo in Puerto Rico

Damage in Puerto Rico was severe, especially in the eastern part of the island. The agricultural sector was devastated, with the banana and coffee crops being almost completely wiped out. Heavy rains caused severe flooding in the vicinity of San Juan; in addition, several roads and bridges were washed away.[12]

In all, 12 deaths in Puerto Rico are attributed to Hugo,[7] six of which occurred in the southern city of Guayama where some residents were electrocuted by downed power lines. Nearly 28,000 people were left homeless by the storm as damage exceed 1 billions damages.[12]

United States

South Carolina

Mobile homes destroyed by Hugo's storm surge
Hugo proved to be devastating to beachfront property

While downtown Charleston, South Carolina suffered extensive damage, the greatest damage was reported in the surrounding suburbs of Mount Pleasant, Sullivan's Island, Isle of Palms, and Goose Creek. Sullivan's Island and the Isle of Palms were cut off from the mainland by the storm's destruction of the Ben Sawyer Bridge. Along the coast, Hugo destroyed many houses and the storm surge piled boats on top of each other.[citation needed]

The storm's most intense wind and storm surge came ashore still further north between the small towns of Awendaw and McClellanville. An extraordinary 20-foot storm surge was reported between Cape Romain and Bulls Bay. Most mature trees in the Francis Marion National Forest were uprooted. Many of the stands were old growth longleaf pine, an important habitat for some endangered species. In McClellanville, a small fishing town, residents took refuge in Lincoln High School, and were surprised by the sudden tidal surge which flooded the school. With water pouring into the rooms, the refugees helped one another in pitch darkness to climb into the space in the hanging ceiling above the rooms. All survived.[citation needed]

The Myrtle Beach & Surfside Beach/Garden City/Murrells Inlet areas also took quite a hit from the storm, not so much from wind, but mainly with storm surge. The surge in addition to the fact that Hugo hit the area during an astronomical high tide created a 12 to 14 foot surge in the area. Many beach-front homes built in these areas were destroyed, leaving numerous ones laying across the middle of Ocean Blvd throughout Surfside Beach & Garden City. Telephone poles were standing in a 45 degree angle, and the boulevard was covered in approximately 4 feet of sand. Many homes just blocks from the beach were left untouched. It is said however that a Surfside Beach "Beach Access" sign was found at the corner of U.S. 17 Bypass and S.C. Hwy 544 after the storm, almost three miles away from where it would have been standing.[citation needed]

According to Governor Carroll Campbell, there were about 3,000 tornadoes embedded within the hurricane, which accounts for extensive damage in some areas not within the path of the eyewall. The term "tornado" was a misnomer; the intense localized winds are more properly referred to as vortices.[citation needed]

Campbell also stated that enough timber was lost within South Carolina to build a home for every family in West Virginia. An immense salvage effort was undertaken to harvest downed pine trees for pulpwood before they deteriorated to the point where they could not be used. Still standing timber that appeared usable for lumber and plywood frequently had annular separations of the rings that made them dangerous to saw and nearly impossible to cut into plies, so they were also downgraded into pulpwood, leading to such a drop in pulpwood prices that eventually much of the salvage effort ceased.[citation needed]

Inland, the storm destroyed homes, timber, and the area's cotton crop. Rainfall totals associated with Hugo were slightly below the average for a direct United States strike, likely due to the storm's rapid forward motion. The maximum amount measured was 10.28" at Edisto Island, South Carolina.[14]

Schools as far north as Greenville County were cancelled the day following Hugo's landfall into South Carolina. Damage from Hurricane Hugo in South Carolina was estimated at $4.2 billion. [15]

North Carolina

Rainfall totals from Hugo in the continental United States

North Carolina's coastline suffered significant damage along its southward-facing beaches, including Brunswick County and the Outer Banks.[citation needed]

By the time it reached Charlotte, North Carolina, Hugo had sustained winds of 69 mph (111 km/h)[16] but gusts of 87 mph (140 km/h)[17] and was still strong enough to topple many trees across roads and houses leaving many without power, closing schools for as long as two weeks, and spawning several tornadoes. The storm took Charlotte by surprise; the city is 200 miles (320 km) inland and is frequently a stopover for people fleeing from the coast. Damage to trees was reported across much of western North Carolina.[citation needed]

In all, twenty-nine counties in North Carolina were declared federal disaster areas, with damages in that state alone estimated at $1 billion (1989 US dollars).[18]


Hugo weakened to a tropical storm by mid-morning as it passed to the west of Charlotte, North Carolina. It passed quickly through western Virginia, West Virginia, and eastern Ohio to Erie, Pennsylvania by the evening of the 22nd as it become an extratropical cyclone. Hugo caused schools in southwest Virginia to be closed in excess of two weeks due to the wind and flooding damage. Winds peaked at 37 miles per hour (60 km/h) at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.[19] The last death caused by the storm was in East Aurora, New York near Buffalo when the winds toppled a tree onto a motorist.[citation needed] The storm then fled northeastward across eastern Canada into the far North Atlantic Ocean.


Red Cross response

Extensive relief aid was provided throughout by The Salvation Army, the Red Cross and various churches.[citation needed]

St. Croix

On the island of St. Croix, looting and lawlessness reigned in the aftermath of Hugo. Phone lines, power lines, hospitals, banks, the airport and 90% of all structures were severely damaged or destroyed. Three days after the storm hit, the governor of the Virgin Islands asked United States President George H. W. Bush for federal assistance in restoring order to the island. On September 20, members of the XVIII Airborne "Contingency Corps" were dispatched to the island as part of Operation Hawkeye. Military police patrolled the island for two months, imposing a dusk-to-dawn curfew. Cargo planes brought in food, water, mobile hospital units, and other supplies while offering free evacuation flights for anyone wanting to leave for the mainland. Sections of Christiansted, the island's eastern city, are still in rubble as of 2007.[citation needed]

Economic impact

After the storm, Governor Carroll Campbell said that the storm destroyed enough timber in South Carolina to frame a home for every family in the state of West Virginia.[citation needed]

FEMA criticism

In South Carolina, which bore the brunt of the storm, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was slow in responding. Senator Fritz Hollings referred to them as "a bunch of bureaucratic jackasses" during a speech on the floor of the United States Senate. An investigation was launched, which led to some reforms in FEMA procedures that helped the agency do a somewhat better job during Andrew, the next catastrophic hurricane to strike the United States. However, FEMA was criticized severely in 2005 for its similarly insufficient response to Hurricane Katrina, while private relief agencies and corporations such as Wal-Mart were praised for their prompt and comprehensive response to the disaster. FEMA's relevancy was questioned in Katrina's aftermath.[20]


Hugo was one of the five very rare Cape Verde storms to hit the U.S mainland named east of the 35th meridian in the Atlantic. Other storms were Hurricane Donna in 1960, Hurricane Georges in 1998, Hurricane Isabel in 2003 and Hurricane Ivan in 2004.


Due to the extensive damage, the name Hugo was retired following this storm, and will never again be used for an Atlantic hurricane.[21] It was replaced with Humberto in the 1995 season.[22] The name Humberto was used in 1995, 2001, and 2007; but was not retired.

See also

Further reading

  • Scatena, F. N.; Larsen, M. C. (1991). "Physical Aspects of Hurricane Hugo in Puerto Rico". Biotropica 23 (4): 317–323. doi:10.2307/2388247. 


  1. ^ a b c d e f NHC (1989). "Hurricane Hugo Preliminary Report". NHC. Retrieved 2007-12-20. 
  2. ^ a b Lawrence, Miles (15 November 1989). "Hurricane Hugo Preliminary Report". National Hurricane Center. Retrieved 25 January 2010. 
  3. ^ Lawrence, Miles (15 November 1989). "Hurricane Hugo Preliminary Report". National Hurricane Center. Retrieved 25 January 2010. 
  4. ^ a b Lawrence, Miles (15 November 1989). "Hurricane Hugo Preliminary Report". National Hurricane Center. Retrieved 26 January 2010. 
  5. ^ a b Lawrence, Miles (15 November 1989). "Hurricane Hugo Preliminary Report". National Hurricane Center. Retrieved 26 January 2010. 
  6. ^ Smith, Bruce (23 September 1989). "Ravenel one who ignored the warning, staying home". The Times and Democrat. Retrieved 26 January 2010. 
  7. ^ a b Grammatico, Michael (April 2006). "Hurricane Hugo - September 22, 1989". Retrieved 26 January 2010. 
  8. ^ a b Landsea, Christopher (2004). "Costliest U.S. Hurricanes 1900-2004 (unadjusted)". National Hurricane Center. Retrieved 26 January 2010. 
  9. ^ Beven, Jack (22 April 1997). "The Deadliest Atlantic Tropical Cyclones, 1492-1996". National Hurricane Center. Retrieved 26 January 2010. 
  10. ^ Operation Hawkeye
  11. ^ Commonwealth Secretariat — Montserrat
  12. ^ a b c WeatherPost - "Deadly Hugo Slams Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands"
  13. ^ Montserrat Bats
  14. ^ David M. Roth (2008-07-28). "Hurricane Hugo Rainfall Graphic". Hydrometeorological Prediction Center. Retrieved 2010-03-18. 
  15. ^ "Hurricane Hugo Today Would Cause $20 Billion in Damage in South Carolina". South Carolina Insurance News Service. 2009-09-22. Retrieved 26 January 2010. 
  16. ^, Retrieved on 30 July 2009
  17. ^, Retrieved on 2009-07-30.
  18. ^ "Hurricane Hugo". NOAA. 30 July 2009. Retrieved 26 January 2010. 
  19. ^ David M. Roth (2007-03-01). "Virginia Hurricane History: Late Twentieth Century". Hydrometeorological Prediction Center. Retrieved 2010-03-18. 
  20. ^ Washburn, Gary. "Daley 'shocked' at federal snub of offers to help." Chicago Tribune. September 2, 2005. Retrieved on July 15, 2006.
  21. ^ National Hurricane Center (2009). "Retired Hurricane Names Since 1954". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved 2009-09-13. 
  22. ^ The Daily Gleaner (1991-06-01). "The changing faces of a cyclone". Retrieved 2009-01-03. 

External links

Tropical cyclones of the 1989 Atlantic hurricane season
Saffir–Simpson Hurricane Scale
TD TS 1 2 3 4 5


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