Remembering Hurricane Hugo

By Jeffrey Masters, Ph.D. — Director of Meteorology, Weather Underground, Inc.
In this series, Dr. Jeff Masters tells the story of 1989's Hurricane Hugo--the most destructive Atlantic hurricane ever recorded up until that time.

Day 6: Preparations for Flying Into Hurricane Hugo Begin

On September 14, 1989, I arose at dawn to prepare for my flight to Barbados to meet Hurricane Hugo. First order of business was to flick on my weather radio and check out the latest advisory for the hurricane. Category 1, 90 mph winds, headed west-northwest at 15 mph. As expected. Next order of business, call in to the hurricane hunter hotline and listen to the mission plan. "We are planning a two-plane deployment to Barbados today, departing at twelve hundred hours. Crew assignments are as follows..." On schedule, and no crew changes. I finished packing my bag and headed to Miami International Airport to fly out to meet Hurricane Hugo.

14 September, 1989

Figure 1. GOES visible satellite image of Hurricane Hugo taken on September 14, 1989. Image credit: Google Earth rendition of the NOAA HURSAT data base.

As our big P-3 Orion hurricane hunter plane droned over the Caribbean towards Barbados, we didn't have any means to check on what the hurricane was doing. I could only guess how strong a hurricane might greet us when we landed. We landed uneventfully at Barbados' Grantley Adams International Airport shortly after dark, and disembarked from the aircraft. As we walked across the tarmac towards the terminal, we were suddenly confronted by the flashes of cameras as a group of reporters documented the arrival of the "daredevil" Hurricane Hunters. We'd never had a welcoming committee at one of our landings before, and all smiled and laughed at our sudden fame. It seems Hurricane Hugo was big news in the Caribbean. I quickly found out why, when I got to the weather briefing room at the terminal. Hugo had rapidly intensified during the day, and was now a major Category 3 hurricane with 115 mph winds. With Hugo still over a day from the islands, the hurricane had plenty of time to intensify further. Barbados was well south of the expected path of the hurricane, and was thus a safe base of operations, but the mood on the island was frightened and electric. It had been nine years since the last major hurricane smashed through the Lesser Antilles Islands--Hurricane Allen of 1980. The roll call of the most notorious hurricanes to devastate the islands of the Lesser Antilles--Allen of 1980, David of 1979, Inez of 1966, Cleo of 1964, Flora of 1963, and Donna of 1960--would soon be adding a new name.

12 September, 1989

Figure 2. The front page story of the September 15, 1989 issue of the Barbados Weekend Nation newspaper featured our arrival the night of September 14, 1989, at Barbados' Grantley Adams International Airport. From left to right: Alan Goldstein (electronic engineer), Dave Turner (pilot), Gerry McKim (pilot, partially hidden), Jim Roles (electronic engineer), Neal Rain (electronic engineer), Jeff Masters (flight meteorologist), Terry Schricker (electronic engineer), Sean White (Navigator), Lowell Genzlinger (pilot), Jack Parrish (flight meteorologist).

The entire Caribbean was in an uproar. Thousands of boats across the Caribbean set sail to seek safe harbor. Tourists besieged besieged airports, seeking to escape the hurricane. Stores throughout the Caribbean islands along Hugo's projected path reported shelves stripped of provisions as residents prepared for the Caribbean's most deadly fury--a fully mature Cape Verdes hurricane. And tomorrow, my plane with fourteen Hurricane Hunters and one reporter would be the first humans to encounter Hugo.

By now, many of you have read my story of my flight into Hurricane Hugo on September 15, 1989. Next in this series, I'll present the story of the flight as seen through the eyes of reporter Janice Griffith of the Barbados Sun.

The Hurricane Hugo Retrospective:

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