50th Anniversary of Hurricane Inez

Hurricane Inez on Oct. 9, 1966 (NIMBUS-2 ESSA)
Hurricane Inez on Oct. 9, 1966

On October 5, 1966, severe Hurricane Inez rampaged through the Florida Keys.  The storm had wrought a path of destruction from Guadeloupe to Hispañola and Cuba before threatening Florida.  Afterward, it brought misery to the Yucatan Peninsula and the Mexican Gulf coast.  It also became a benchmark for major hurricanes within the research community.

Inez formed from a tropical disturbance that organized into a depression by Sept. 21st in the tropical Atlantic.  It gradually intensified over the next six days, and reached hurricane strength as it drew near the Leeward Islands.  It underwent a rapid intensification and struck the island of Guadeloupe with winds of 120 mph (195 km/hr).  Inez was a small storm with hurricane-force winds only extending 50 miles from its center.

Wind structure with height of Hurricane Inez (Hawkins and Imbembo 1976)
Wind structure with height of Hurricane Inez
(Hawkins and Imbembo 1976)

NHRL planes operating out of San Juan, PR and Curaçao, monitored the hurricane as it churned westward over the Caribbean Sea.  It’s maximum sustained winds eventually peaked at 150 mph (240 km/hr) as it passed south of the Mona Passage.  On this day, all three NHRL planes, flying at five altitudes between them, dissected the storm and collected an unprecedented data set.  One of the DC-6 aircraft at 8,000 ft (2,400 m) recorded flight-level winds of 197 mph (317 km/hr).

That evening the storm plowed into the southern shore of Hispañola bringing powerful winds and intense rainfall.  Flooding and mudslides plagued Haiti and the Dominican Republic, leaving nearly 1000 dead.

The NHRL planes returned to Miami, taking reading of the northern portion of the storm on their transit.  Inez had weakened slightly over Hispañola, but revived over the Windward Passage before making landfall neat the US Navy base at Guantanamo Bay with winds near 115 mph (185 km/hr). The storm spent the next two days skirting along the southern coast of Cuba, gradually diminishing.  The NHRL planes attempted flights into the storm, but the center was over land so no penetrations were allowed.

Then on Oct. 2nd, Inez swerved to the northeast and crossed Cuba to emerge over the ocean.  Suddenly, the Bahamas and Florida were under hurricane warnings and the NHRL planes were evacuated to Tampa.  Inez had weakened to a tropical storm, but it also came to a near halt near Andros Island and began to strengthen again.  The NHRL planes flew research missions into the storm and recovered back in Miami since Inez was forecast to continue out to sea.

But after dawdling over the Bahamas, Inez made another abrupt turn and moved southwestward and began to re-intensify.  On Oct. 4th through the 5th, Inez moved slowly over the Florida Keys and the NHRL planes were once more evacuated to Tampa.  Inez dropped very little rainfall over south Florida and the Keys.  But its winds whipped up salt spray from the ocean and, undiluted by rain, caused damage to crops and foliage.  It also brought a surge up to 5 ft (1.5 m) at Big Pine Key and capsized a boat smuggling refugees out of Cuba, drowning all but the boat’s captain.

Inez began a southwesterly course and began to gain strength over the Yucatan Channel.  One of the NHRL DC-6s carried out sea surface temperature measurements in the storm’s wake.  On board was a young researcher named James McFadden of the Sea-Air Interaction Laboratory of AOML. The experience encouraged him to pursue airborne research as a career.

Inez’s center passed north of the peninsula, but brought hurricane-force winds and heavy surf to the area.  Inez regained more strength and hit Tampico with winds of 115 mph (185 km/hr).  The hurricane quickly dissipated over Mexico’s Sierra Oriental.  Over its lifetime, Inez caused over 1000 deaths and over US$225 million in damage.

Temperature anomoly structure with height of Hurricane Inez (Hawkins and Imbembo 1976)
Temperature anomoly structure with height of Hurricane Inez
(Hawkins and Imbembo 1976)

The data gathered on October 7th and 8th allowed NHRL scientists to build an extraordinary model of the structure of a severe hurricane.  Harry Hawkins and Steve Imbembo published a paper in Monthly Weather Review about these findings that has been cited 98 times, making it one of the most cited articles on hurricane structure.

NHRL scientists’ publications using Inez data

Bergman, K. H., and T. N. Carlson, 1975:  Objective analysis of aircraft data in tropical cyclones.  Mon. Wea. Rev., 103, 431-444.

Hawkins, H. F., and S. M. Imbembo, 1976:  The structure of a small, intense hurricae – Inez 1966.  Mon. Wea. Rev., 104, 418-442.

Moss, M. S., and S. L. Rosenthal, 1975:  On the estimation of planetary boundary layer variables in mature hurricanes.  Mon. Wea. Rev., 103, 980-988.