July 18, 2005 Monday is Hurricane Supplication Day, an event that once merited a day off from work for government employees. It went with the wind a few years back in a belt-tightening measure, but prudent V.I. residents no doubt will cast a few prayers anyway.
This year's hurricane season is shaping up to be a long one, with four named storms already history. A fifth, Hurricane Emily, is still making waves as it churns toward the Gulf Coast of Mexico or Texas. According to the Weather Channel, it's the strongest July hurricane on record.
So far this year, the Virgin Islands has only received a bit of wind and rain from passing storms, but the Web site www.hurricanecity.com indicates that, statistically the Virgin Islands should get hit in 2005. Of course, that doesn't mean it's going to happen.
On May 31, Colorado State University forecaster William Gray predicted 15 named storms for this year. He expects eight of them to become hurricanes, with four of those reaching intense status with winds over 111 mph.
Names remaining for the 2005 season are Franklin, Gert, Harvey, Irene, Jose, Katrina, Lee, Maria, Nate, Ophelia, Philippe, Rita, Stan, Tammy, Vince, and finally, Wilma.
V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency Director Harold Baker advised resident get ready.
Baker said that now is the time to get organized if you haven't already done so. This means stocking up on medications, buying nonperishable food, creating a plan to take care of pets, and getting rid of items in yards that could become airborne in a big wind.
Baker said that people who have construction or renovation projects underway need to figure out now how they'll secure items.
He also reminded boaters not to stay on board if a storm heads this way.
"Remember what happened to the Coast Guard boat," he said, referring to the Coast Guard cutter Point Ledge that washed up on the Charlotte Amalie waterfront bulkhead in 1995's Hurricane Marilyn.
And remember the seven boaters who died in Hurricane Marilyn when they tried to ride out the storm aboard their boats. At least four people on boats disappeared.
In the story of the Triple Challenge, a 65-foot fishing boat anchored off Water Island, no trace was ever found of three crew members on board. One crew member, Mike Esterbrook, washed 15 miles out to sea before he was found.
Cardinal Hughes of the fishing boat Misty Dawn, anchored near the Triple Challenge, was found by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter clinging to wreckage nine miles northwest of St. Thomas. Three others from the Misty Dawn washed up three days after the storm in the British Virgin Islands two on Little Tobago and one on Jost Van Dyke.
Numerous other boats totally disappeared with no trace of them ever found.
The worst hurricanes to hit the Virgin Islands in recent memory all came in September. In 1989, Hurricane Hugo slammed into the territory September 17 and 18. Hurricane Marilyn did the same in 1995, on September 15 and 16. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the devastating event.
Hurricane Marilyn set the stage for a steady stream of lesser storms that arrived every year until 2000, with the exception of 1997. There have been close calls since 2000, but nothing, in retrospect, to get too nervous about. Of course, as residents watched the storms' tracks get closer to the Virgin Islands, plenty of people worried quite a bit.
Hurricane season runs June 1 through Nov. 30. However, V.I. residents again return to a prayerful mode on Oct. 17 when they give thanks they've been spared. It's too soon to tell whether that hope will come to pass, but after Hurricane Hugo, residents took to the streets to say thanks they were still alive.
A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Web site reports that 1988's Hurricane Gilbert, which killed 327 people in the Caribbean and Mexico, was the most intense hurricane on record in the Atlantic Basin, racking up winds of 185 mph.
At that point, the barometric pressure dropped to 888 millibars. By comparison, Hurricane Emily's 150 mph winds on Sunday had a barometric pressure of 938 millibars.
Hurricane Ginger in 1971 lasted the longest at 27.25 days.
The year 1995 saw the most tropical storms and hurricanes develop in the Atlantic Basin since such records were kept, starting in 1944. The total reached 19.
According to information on www.wunderground.com, the deadliest hurricane in history came in October 1780. Termed the Great Hurricane because it came before the advent of named storms, it killed 22,000 people in Martinique, Barbados and St. Eustatius.
The second deadliest, the Great Galveston Hurricane, killed between 8,000 and 12,000 people in September 1900.
The third deadliest was only seven years ago. Hurricane Mitch ripped through Honduras and Nicaragua in late October and early November of 1998, leaving 9,086 dead in its wake.
Thankfully, the Virgin Islands did not make the 30 Top Deadliest list, but Puerto Rico got mention in numbers nine and 30, so presumably the Virgin Islands received some damage from the 1899 hurricane that killed 3,433 and the 1825 hurricane that took 1,300 lives.
However, a list of the 30 Top Deadliest list for the United States includes as an addendum the 1932 hurricane that killed 225 people in the Virgin Islands and Puerto. It also includes 1960's Donna, which the list indicates took 107 lives in St. Thomas. That storm hit 160 mph before it struck the Virgin Islands. Winds had fallen to 140 mph by the time it arrived.
To date, the costliest hurricane on U.S. record was 1992's Andrew. It did $34.9 billion worth of damage in Florida and Louisiana. Last year's Hurricane Charley got second-place honors with $14 billion damage in Florida. Hurricane Ivan, another 2004 storm, came in third with $13 billion in Florida and Alabama.
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