There were many Atlantic storms, but only Hurricane IRENE impacted the U.S.

The first eight storms of the 2011 hurricane season failed to reach hurricane intensity. The ninth became hurricane IRENE which impacted the northeast Caribbean islands and Puerto Rico. After brushing the northern coast of Hispaniola IRENE’s winds reached its peak intensity of CAT 3 over the Bahama Islands. The main effect on North Florida and southeast Georgia was dangerous surf and rip currents, while northwest to north winds were hot and dry, causing record highs of 99 and 97 degrees on August 27 and 28.

Hurricane IRENE crossed North Carolina’s Outer Banks as a CAT 1 hurricane, brushed the Virginia-Maryland Delmarva area, then made its second U.S. landfall farther north at Little Egg Harbor, NJ. With hurricane warnings posted for New York City, the Big Apple shut down its mass transit system for the first time. As IRENE’s winds weakened to tropical storm strength, attention was shifted to the more widespread flood dangers from the tropical downpours. We’ve learned our lessons from years past that more people lose their lives from flood waters than hurricane winds. As the remnants of IRENE swept over New England, the worst floods since 1927 struck Vermont where more than 40 lives were lost.

The strongest hurricane of the 2011 season was KATIA, which fortunately missed the Leeward Islands and Bermuda. The remainder of this season brought five more hurricanes across the Atlantic Basin with the names stretching alphabetically from MARIA to RINA. The last named storm was SEAN, which only brushed Bermuda on November 11 and rapidly lost tropical characteristics as it was stretched northeastward by strong westerly winds.

Fortunately for me, there were no hurricanes affecting our area in September when I suffered a Cardiac Arrest on September 7 and was hospitalized for 3 weeks. You might have read my earlier recollections of Grady Norton, the Weather Bureau’s Senior Hurricane Forecaster, who was the forerunner of Directors Gordon Dunn, Neil Frank, Robert Simpson, Bob Sheets, and Max Mayfield. In 1954, Norton died of a heart attack after making predictions and radio broadcasts during hurricane HAZEL in 1954. That hurricane slammed hit Myrtle Beach, SC and continued across North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania to wind up in the interior of Canada.

Natural disasters like hurricanes make such an impact on our lives that they are used as timestamps when referring to days gone by. In recent years, Gulf coast residents talk about before KATRINA (2004). People in South Florida refer to when hurricane ANDREW (1992) hit, and people in the Carolinas still refer to hurricane HUGO (1989). In northeast Florida and southeast Georgia, there are still people who approach me talking about hurricane DORA (1964), the only full-force hurricane to directly strike our shore from the east 47 years ago.

At that time, I was the only full-time broadcast meteorologist hired by a television station in Jacksonville. Today, it is mind-boggling to try to name all of the TV meteorologists in our area, not to mention the Weather Channel, the National Weather Service, cable TV, and the military. I am indebted to the United States Air Force for giving my first schooling in meteorology, as well as the Meteorology Department at Florida State University where I received my BS degree. After five years with the U.S. Weather Bureau (now National Weather Service), I joined WJXT4, who has allowed me to advance the the public’s awareness of weather through time-lapse and storm photography, film animation, community outreach, and broadcasting for nearly 50 years.



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