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Hurricane Hattie

Hurricane Hattie

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Hurricane Hattie was the deadliest tropical cyclone
Tropical cyclone
A tropical cyclone is a storm system characterized by a large low-pressure center and numerous thunderstorms that produce strong winds and heavy rain. Tropical cyclones strengthen when water evaporated from the ocean is released as the saturated air rises, resulting in condensation of water vapor...

 of the 1961 Atlantic hurricane season
1961 Atlantic hurricane season
The 1961 Atlantic hurricane season officially began on June 15, 1961, and lasted until November 15, 1961. These dates conventionally delimit the period of each year when most tropical cyclones form in the Atlantic basin. The season had seven major hurricanes, the second highest number on...

, as well as the strongest, reaching a peak intensity equivalent to Category 5 hurricane intensity. The ninth tropical storm and seventh hurricane and major hurricane, Hattie originated from an area of low pressure that developed and intensified into a tropical storm near San Andres Island on October 27. Moving towards the north and north-northeast, the storm quickly gained hurricane status and major hurricane status the following day. Hattie turned towards the west to the east of Jamaica
Jamaica
Jamaica is an island nation of the Greater Antilles, in length, up to in width and 10,990 square kilometres in area. It is situated in the Caribbean Sea, about south of Cuba, and west of Hispaniola, the island harbouring the nation-states Haiti and the Dominican Republic...

, and strengthened into a Category 5 hurricane, with maximum sustained wind
Maximum sustained wind
The maximum sustained winds associated with a tropical cyclone are a common indicator of the intensity of the storm. Within a mature tropical cyclone, they are found within the eyewall at a distance defined as the radius of maximum wind, or RMW. Unlike gusts, the value of these winds are...

s of 160 mph (257.5 km/h) before weakening to Category 4 status at landfall
Landfall (meteorology)
Landfall is the event of a tropical cyclone or a waterspout coming onto land after being over water. When a waterspout makes landfall it is reclassified as a tornado, which can then cause damage inland...

 south of Belize City
Belize City
Belize City is the largest city in the Central American nation of Belize. Unofficial estimates place the population of Belize City at 70,000 or more. It is located at the mouth of the Belize River on the coast of the Caribbean. The city is the country's principal port and its financial and...

. Continuing southwest, the storm rapidly weakened over the mountainous terrain of Central America, dissipating on November 1.

Meteorological history



For several days toward the end of October 1961, a low pressure area
Low pressure area
A low-pressure area, or "low", is a region where the atmospheric pressure at sea level is below that of surrounding locations. Low-pressure systems form under areas of wind divergence which occur in upper levels of the troposphere. The formation process of a low-pressure area is known as...

 persisted in the western Caribbean Sea
Caribbean Sea
The Caribbean Sea is a sea of the Atlantic Ocean located in the tropics of the Western hemisphere. It is bounded by Mexico and Central America to the west and southwest, to the north by the Greater Antilles, and to the east by the Lesser Antilles....

, north of the Panama Canal Zone
Panama Canal Zone
The Panama Canal Zone was a unorganized U.S. territory located within the Republic of Panama, consisting of the Panama Canal and an area generally extending 5 miles on each side of the centerline, but excluding Panama City and Colón, which otherwise would have been partly within the limits of...

. On October 25, an upper-level anticyclone
Anticyclone
An anticyclone is a weather phenomenon defined by the United States' National Weather Service's glossary as "[a] large-scale circulation of winds around a central region of high atmospheric pressure, clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere, counterclockwise in the Southern Hemisphere"...

 moved near and over the low, and the next day, a trough
Trough (meteorology)
A trough is an elongated region of relatively low atmospheric pressure, often associated with fronts.Unlike fronts, there is not a universal symbol for a trough on a weather chart. The weather charts in some countries or regions mark troughs by a line. In the United States, a trough may be marked...

 over the western Gulf of Mexico provided favorable outflow
Outflow (meteorology)
Outflow, in meteorology, is air that flows outwards from a storm system. It is associated with ridging, or anticyclonic flow. In the low levels of the troposphere, outflow radiates from thunderstorms in the form of a wedge of rain-cooled air, which is visible as a thin rope-like cloud on weather...

 for the disturbance. At 0000 UTC
Coordinated Universal Time
Coordinated Universal Time is the primary time standard by which the world regulates clocks and time. It is one of several closely related successors to Greenwich Mean Time. Computer servers, online services and other entities that rely on having a universally accepted time use UTC for that purpose...

 on October 27, a ship in the vicinity of the disturbance reported southerly winds of 46 mph (74 km/h). Later that day, the airport on San Andres Island reported easterly winds of 60 mph (95 km/h). The two observations confirmed the presence of a closed atmospheric circulation
Atmospheric circulation
Atmospheric circulation is the large-scale movement of air, and the means by which thermal energy is distributed on the surface of the Earth....

, located about 70 miles (110 km) southeast of San Andres, or 155 mi (250 km) east of the Nicaragua coast; as a result, the Miami, Florida
Miami, Florida
Miami is a city located on the Atlantic coast in southeastern Florida and the county seat of Miami-Dade County, the most populous county in Florida and the eighth-most populous county in the United States with a population of 2,500,625...

 Weather Bureau
National Weather Service
The National Weather Service , once known as the Weather Bureau, is one of the six scientific agencies that make up the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the United States government...

 office began issuing advisories on Tropical Storm Hattie.

After being classified, Hattie moved steadily northward, passing very near or over San Andres Island. There, a station recorded a pressure of 991 mbar
Bar (unit)
The bar is a unit of pressure equal to 100 kilopascals, and roughly equal to the atmospheric pressure on Earth at sea level. Other units derived from the bar are the megabar , kilobar , decibar , centibar , and millibar...

 and sustained winds of 80 mph (130 km/h), which indicated that Hattie reached hurricane status. Late on October 28, a Hurricane Hunters
Hurricane Hunters
The Hurricane Hunters are aircraft that fly into tropical cyclones in the North Atlantic Ocean and Northeastern Pacific Ocean for the specific purpose of directly measuring weather data in and around those storms. In the United States, the Air Force, Navy, and NOAA units have all participated in...

 flight encountered a much stronger hurricane, with winds of 125 mph (200 km/h) in a small area near the center. At the time, gale force winds extended outward 140 miles (225 km) to the northeast, and 70 miles (115 km) to the southwest. By early on October 29, a trough
Trough (meteorology)
A trough is an elongated region of relatively low atmospheric pressure, often associated with fronts.Unlike fronts, there is not a universal symbol for a trough on a weather chart. The weather charts in some countries or regions mark troughs by a line. In the United States, a trough may be marked...

 extended from Nicaragua through Florida; based on the trough and climatology for similar hurricanes, Hattie was expected to continue northward. By later that day, the hurricane was predicted to be an imminent threat to the Cayman Islands
Cayman Islands
The Cayman Islands is a British Overseas Territory and overseas territory of the European Union located in the western Caribbean Sea. The territory comprises the three islands of Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac, and Little Cayman, located south of Cuba and northwest of Jamaica...

 and western Cuba. Around that time, a strengthening ridge
Ridge (meteorology)
A ridge is an elongated region of relatively high atmospheric pressure, the opposite of a trough....

 to its north turned Hattie toward the northwest, which spared the Greater Antilles
Greater Antilles
The Greater Antilles are one of three island groups in the Caribbean. Comprising Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola , and Puerto Rico, the Greater Antilles constitute almost 90% of the land mass of the entire West Indies.-Greater Antilles in context :The islands of the Caribbean Sea, collectively known as...

, but increased the threat to Central America
Central America
Central America is the central geographic region of the Americas. It is the southernmost, isthmian portion of the North American continent, which connects with South America on the southeast. When considered part of the unified continental model, it is considered a subcontinent...

.

With the strengthening of the ridge to its north, Hurricane Hattie also began intensifying again, after retaining the same strength for about 24 hours. Initially, forecasters at the Miami Weather Bureau predicted the storm to turn northward again. Late on October 29, the center of the hurricane passed about 90 miles (145 km) southwest of Grand Cayman
Grand Cayman
Grand Cayman is the largest of the three Cayman Islands and the location of the nation's capital, George Town. In relation to the other two Cayman Islands, it is approximately 75 miles southwest of Little Cayman and 90 miles southwest of Cayman Brac.-Geography:Grand Cayman encompasses 76% of...

; at the same time, the interaction between Hattie and a ridge to its north produced squally winds of around 30 mph (50 km/h) across Florida. Early on October 30, the Hurricane Hunters confirmed the increase in intensity, reporting winds of 140 mph (225 km/h). The minimum central pressure
Atmospheric pressure
Atmospheric pressure is the force per unit area exerted into a surface by the weight of air above that surface in the atmosphere of Earth . In most circumstances atmospheric pressure is closely approximated by the hydrostatic pressure caused by the weight of air above the measurement point...

 continued to drop throughout the day, reaching 924 mbar by 1300 UTC; a lower pressure of 920 mbar was computed at 1700 UTC that day, based on a flight-level reading. Its motion curved toward the west-southwest, causing the hurricane to pass between the Cayman Islands and the Swan Islands
Swan Islands, Honduras
The Swan Islands, or Islas Santanilla, are a chain of three islands located in the northwestern Caribbean Sea, approximately ninety miles off the coastline of Honduras, with a land area of .-Detailed location and features:...

. By late on October 30, it is estimated that Hattie attained peak winds of 160 mph (260 km/h) about 190 mi (310 km) east of the border of Mexico and British Honduras
British Honduras
British Honduras was a British colony that is now the independent nation of Belize.First colonised by Spaniards in the 17th century, the territory on the east coast of Central America, south of Mexico, became a British crown colony from 1862 until 1964, when it became self-governing. Belize became...

 (now known as Belize
Belize
Belize is a constitutional monarchy and the northernmost country in Central America. Belize has a diverse society, comprising many cultures and languages. Even though Kriol and Spanish are spoken among the population, Belize is the only country in Central America where English is the official...

). This made Hattie the equivalence of a Category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale
Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale
The Saffir–Simpson Hurricane Scale , or the Saffir–Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale , classifies hurricanes — Western Hemisphere tropical cyclones that exceed the intensities of tropical depressions and tropical storms — into five categories distinguished by the intensities of their sustained winds...

, making it the latest hurricane on record to reach the status. Additionally, Hattie was the strongest measured hurricane in the northwest Caribbean until Hurricane Mitch
Hurricane Mitch
Hurricane Mitch was the most powerful hurricane and the most destructive of the 1998 Atlantic hurricane season, with maximum sustained winds of 180 mph . The storm was the thirteenth tropical storm, ninth hurricane, and third major hurricane of the season. Along with Hurricane Georges, Mitch...

 in 1998.

Hurricane Hattie maintained much of its intensity as it continued toward the coast, and on October 31 made landfall
Landfall (meteorology)
Landfall is the event of a tropical cyclone or a waterspout coming onto land after being over water. When a waterspout makes landfall it is reclassified as a tornado, which can then cause damage inland...

 a short distance south of Belize City
Belize City
Belize City is the largest city in the Central American nation of Belize. Unofficial estimates place the population of Belize City at 70,000 or more. It is located at the mouth of the Belize River on the coast of the Caribbean. The city is the country's principal port and its financial and...

 after moving through several islands offshore. Its eyewall
Eye (cyclone)
The eye is a region of mostly calm weather found at the center of strong tropical cyclones. The eye of a storm is a roughly circular area and typically 30–65 km in diameter. It is surrounded by the eyewall, a ring of towering thunderstorms where the second most severe weather of a cyclone...

 measured about 25 miles (40 km), and sustained winds were unofficially estimated at over 150 mph (240 km/h), potentially as strong as 200 mph (325 km/h). In a post-season analysis, it was determined that Hattie weakened to winds of 140 mph (225 km/h) before moving ashore. The hurricane weakened rapidly over land, dissipating on November 1 as it moved into the mountains of Guatemala
Guatemala
Guatemala is a country in Central America bordered by Mexico to the north and west, the Pacific Ocean to the southwest, Belize to the northeast, the Caribbean to the east, and Honduras and El Salvador to the southeast...

. As it was dissipating Tropical Storm Simone was developing off the Pacific coast of Guatemala. There was speculation that Hattie contributed to the development of Simone, and later Tropical Storm Inga after the systems merged.

Southwestern Caribbean


When the Miami Weather Bureau first began issuing advisories on Hattie, the agency noted the potential for heavy rainfall in the southwestern Caribbean, which could potentially cause flash flood
Flash flood
A flash flood is a rapid flooding of geomorphic low-lying areas—washes, rivers, dry lakes and basins. It may be caused by heavy rain associated with a storm, hurricane, or tropical storm or meltwater from ice or snow flowing over ice sheets or snowfields...

ing. The advisories recommended for small ships to remain at harbor, across the region. Ultimately, the hurricane's movement was more northerly than expected, resulting in less precipitation along the Central American coast than was previously anticipated.

While forming and intensifying, Hurricane Hattie passed near or over San Andrés island, which is located off the east coast of Nicaragua. The hurricane was the fourth on record to strike the island, and of the four was the only to approach from the south. While approaching the island, the airport was closed due to tropical storm force winds. Maximum sustained winds reached 80 mph (130 km/h), with gusts to 104 mph (167 km/h). The hurricane resulted in one death, 15 injuries, and $300,000 in damage (1961 USD
United States dollar
The United States dollar , also referred to as the American dollar, is the official currency of the United States of America. It is divided into 100 smaller units called cents or pennies....

, $  USD).

Greater Antilles and Florida


Initially, the hurricane was predicted to move near or through the Cayman Islands
Cayman Islands
The Cayman Islands is a British Overseas Territory and overseas territory of the European Union located in the western Caribbean Sea. The territory comprises the three islands of Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac, and Little Cayman, located south of Cuba and northwest of Jamaica...

, Jamaica, and Cuba. It remained away from the islands, although it passed closest to Grand Cayman
Grand Cayman
Grand Cayman is the largest of the three Cayman Islands and the location of the nation's capital, George Town. In relation to the other two Cayman Islands, it is approximately 75 miles southwest of Little Cayman and 90 miles southwest of Cayman Brac.-Geography:Grand Cayman encompasses 76% of...

, where heavy rainfall were reported. About 11.5 inches (292 mm) were reported on the island, including 7.8 inches (198 mm) in six hours. Winds on Grand Cayman were below hurricane force, and minor damage occurred due to the heavy rainfall.

The interaction of a ridge of high pressure and the hurricane produced sustained winds of 20 mph (35 km/h) across most of Florida, with a gust of 72 mph (116 km/h) reported at Hillsboro Inlet Light
Hillsboro Inlet Light
Hillsboro Inlet Light is located on the north side of Hillsboro Inlet, midway between Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton, in Hillsboro Beach, Florida...

; the winds produced some beach erosion in the state.

Northwestern Caribbean


Hurricane Hattie first posed a threat to the Yucatán Peninsula
Yucatán Peninsula
The Yucatán Peninsula, in southeastern Mexico, separates the Caribbean Sea from the Gulf of Mexico, with the northern coastline on the Yucatán Channel...

 and British Honduras
British Honduras
British Honduras was a British colony that is now the independent nation of Belize.First colonised by Spaniards in the 17th century, the territory on the east coast of Central America, south of Mexico, became a British crown colony from 1862 until 1964, when it became self-governing. Belize became...

 (now the country of Belize
Belize
Belize is a constitutional monarchy and the northernmost country in Central America. Belize has a diverse society, comprising many cultures and languages. Even though Kriol and Spanish are spoken among the population, Belize is the only country in Central America where English is the official...

) on October 30, when it first turned toward the area. Officials at the Miami Weather Bureau warned of the threat for high tides, strong winds, and torrential rainfall. The warnings were transmitted to people in the affected area, allowing for extensive evacuations. Most of the people in the capital, Belize City
Belize City
Belize City is the largest city in the Central American nation of Belize. Unofficial estimates place the population of Belize City at 70,000 or more. It is located at the mouth of the Belize River on the coast of the Caribbean. The city is the country's principal port and its financial and...

, were evacuated or moved to shelters, although some shelters were unsafe and were destroyed in the hurricane. Over 75% of the population of Stann Creek
Dangriga
Dangriga, formerly known as Stann Creek Town, is a town in southern Belize, located on the Caribbean coast at the mouth of Stann Creek. It is the capital of Belize's Stann Creek District and also the largest town in southern Belize...

 fled to safer locations. The hurricane moved ashore with powerful winds and a storm tide
Storm tide
A storm tide is a tide with a high flood period caused by a storm. Storm tides can be a severe danger to the coast and the people living along the coast. The water level can rise to more than 5 meters above the normal tide....

 of up to 14 feet (4.3 m) near Belize City. The capital received a 10 ft (3 m) storm tide along its waterfront, which, in combination with high waves, reached the third story of some buildings. Most of the capital city was destroyed or severely damaged, as was the city of Stann Creek. The hurricane left significant crop damage across the region, including $2 million in citrus fruits and similar losses to timber, cocoa, and bananas. Damage throughout the territory totaled $60 million (1961 USD
United States dollar
The United States dollar , also referred to as the American dollar, is the official currency of the United States of America. It is divided into 100 smaller units called cents or pennies....

, $  USD), and a total of 307 deaths were reported; more than 100 of the fatalities were in Belize City. The government of British Honduras considered Hurricane Hattie more damaging than a hurricane in 1931
1931 Belize hurricane
The 1931 Belize hurricane was a devastating Category 3 hurricane that hit Belize City on September 10, 1931, killing an estimated 2,500 people. Although much weaker than Hurricane Hattie of 1961, it remains the deadliest hurricane, and natural disaster, in Belize's history...

 which killed 2,000 people; the lower death toll of Hattie was due to advanced warning.

Hurricane Hattie also impacted other countries in Central America with flash floods, causing 11 deaths in Guatemala and one fatality in Honduras. Swan Island reported wind gusts slightly below hurricane force, with minor damage and one injury reported.

Aftermath


In the days after the storm, throngs of survivors numbering in the thousands roamed the streets for days digging about in the crumbled ruins in search of any kind of food. Hattie damaged Belize City
Belize City
Belize City is the largest city in the Central American nation of Belize. Unofficial estimates place the population of Belize City at 70,000 or more. It is located at the mouth of the Belize River on the coast of the Caribbean. The city is the country's principal port and its financial and...

 badly enough to force the government to relocate to a new capital further inland: its present location in Belmopan
Belmopan
Belmopan , estimated population 20,000 is the capital city of Belize.Belmopan is located at , at an altitude of 76 metres above sea level. Belmopan was constructed just to the east of Belize River, inland from the former capital, the port of Belize City, after that city's near destruction by...

. Some permanent towns, such as Hattieville
Hattieville
Hattieville, sometimes also known as Hattieville Village, is a town in the Belize District of the nation of Belize. It is located at 17N 88W, at an elevation of 196 feet above mean sea level, and has a population of about 1,300 people...

, were formed from temporary shelters built for those made homeless by the hurricane. Violence broke out in the aftermath of the storm, causing the British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 frigate
Frigate
A frigate is any of several types of warship, the term having been used for ships of various sizes and roles over the last few centuries.In the 17th century, the term was used for any warship built for speed and maneuverability, the description often used being "frigate-built"...

, HMS Troubridge, to land 125 officers and men to aid colony police in halting widespread looting and pillaging.

On the 44th anniversary of the hurricane in 2005, the government of Belize unveiled a monument in Belize City to recognize the victims of the hurricane.

The name Hattie was retired the following year and will never be used by an Atlantic hurricane again. It was replaced by Holly
1965 Atlantic hurricane season
The 1965 Atlantic hurricane season officially began on June 1, 1965, and lasted until November 30, 1965. These dates conventionally delimit the period of each year when most tropical cyclones form in the Atlantic basin....

 in 1965.

See also



External links