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 8: Hurricane Hugo Weakens Slightly


On September 16, 1989, Hurricane Hugo weakened slightly as it underwent an eyewall replacement cycle. The tight inner eyewall that we had flown through the previous day had contracted to the point where it became unstable and collapsed. A new eyewall formed out of an outer spiral band, and Hugo's highest winds dropped to 140 mph--Category 4 strength. As this was occurring, the storm began a more northwesterly path and slowed down, in response to a region of low pressure north of Puerto Rico. By midnight, Hugo was only an hour away from its first encounter with land--the Lesser Antilles island of Guadeloupe.

Back on Barbados, our one undamaged P-3 Orion Hurricane Hunter aircraft flew a mission into Hugo, while the crew of the damaged aircraft remained on the ground. Our plane was grounded until a team of experts from the mainland could fly out and perform a detailed x-ray analysis of the wings to determine if the high g-forces we endured had caused structural damage. This might take a week, so the plan was to fly us back to Miami on a commercial jet. However, Hugo had forced the cancellation of virtually every commercial flight in the eastern Caribbean that day, so we were stuck on the island. Most of us spent a frustrated day touring the island on rented mopeds, getting a look at Hugo from the ground. We got thoroughly drenched by one of Hugo's outermost spiral bands, but the hurricane was too far away to bring any winds more than 20 mph to the island.

That night, our already jangled nerves got a new jolt--a tropical depression had formed due east of Barbados, and was headed right for us. In two days time, it seemed likely that Tropical Storm Iris would be paying us a visit.

16 September, 1989

Figure 1. GOES visible satellite image of Hurricane Hugo taken on September 16, 1989. Image credit: Google Earth rendition of the NOAA HURSAT data base.

The Hurricane Hugo Retrospective:


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