NOAA COMMEMORATES 10TH ANNIVERSARY OF HURRICANE ANDREW
August 22, 2002 — Eight days before earning its reputation as one of the costliest, most intense hurricanes ever to strike the United States, Hurricane Andrew was little more than a weak tropical disturbance in the central Atlantic, a seemingly insignificant development in what was shaping up to be a below-normal hurricane season. (Click NOAA composite satellite image for larger view of Hurricane Andrew August 22-25, 1992.)
Twenty-three deaths are directly attributed to the storm. More than 135,000 single family and mobile homes were destroyed or damaged, 160,000 people were left homeless and 86,000 lost their jobs. Total damage caused by Hurricane Andrew was estimated near $25 billion (1992 dollars).
The eye of the storm made landfall over Elliott Key, in southern Miami/Dade County. It was also a compact, fast-moving storm. According to Max Mayfield, director of NOAA’s National Hurricane Center in Miami, both were mitigating factors. “Despite the terrible loss of life and destruction, the disaster could have been worse if the eye of the hurricane made landfall 20 miles to the north. That would have been devastating for downtown Miami and we could have seen a much higher death toll. Had it been bigger and slower, with more rain, we might also have seen even more destruction.”
Leaving Florida behind, Andrew moved across the Gulf of Mexico and made a second landfall on the coast of Louisiana. An additional eight lives were lost in Louisiana, more than 21,000 homes were destroyed or damaged and the total loss there exceeded $1 billion.
During the last decade, faster computers and more sophisticated computer models have allowed forecasters to provide more realistic projections. Twenty-four hour track forecasts have improved by more than 20 percent giving emergency managers the opportunity to refine evacuation planning.
Since Andrew, NOAA’s National Weather Service completed a $4.5 billion modernization program, which includes a new generation of Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) with higher resolution imagery to monitor hurricanes and gather global climate data; a nationwide network of NEXRAD (Next Generation Radar) Doppler radar systems; Automated Surface Observing System (ASOS) to provide continuously updated surface weather observations; and, a network of powerful workstations with an Advanced Interactive Weather Processing System (AWIPS) to tie all of the observational data together.
A Gulfstream (NOAA G-IV) jet aircraft has since been employed to fly in the environment around tropical cyclones. The G-IVs collect valuable information from 45,000 foot altitude, which complements the hurricane data provided by the NOAA WP-3C “Orion” aircraft and the WC-130H “Hercules” aircraft flown by the U.S. Air Force Reserve 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron.
“Recent advances in technology and improved understanding of tropical weather systems, have clearly enhanced our ability to forecast and warn for tropical storms and hurricanes,” said Brig. Gen. Jack Kelly, USAF (ret.), director, NOAA National Weather Service. “Hurricane Andrew brought with it many challenges, which this new technology addresses. Our focus is on the future and continuing improvements that support our mission and help us save lives.
“That puts a lot of people in harm’s way when tropical storms and hurricanes threaten,” said NOAA Administrator, Vice Adm. Conrad Lautenbacher, USN (ret.). “There were only six named storms during the 1992 Atlantic hurricane season and yet it produced one of the three worst hurricanes to strike the continental U.S. People should always practice hurricane preparedness. They simply cannot afford to be complacent,” he added.