20th Anniversary of Hurricane Lili

Hurricane Lili at Catagory 3 status east of the Bahamas, Oct. 19, 1996 (NOAA)

Hurricane Lili at Catagory 3 status east of the Bahamas, Oct. 19, 1996

On October 18, 1996, Hurricane Lili slammed into Cuba with over 100 mph (160 km/hr) winds and heavy rains.  The storm, during its life cycle, would leave destruction from Central America to the British Isles.

Lili formed from a tropical depression which developed on Oct. 15th in the typical breeding grounds for mid-October, the western Caribbean Sea.  It crawled slowly northward over the next couple of days, becoming more organized.  By the 17th, it reached hurricane strength and turned to the northeast picking up forward speed.

That afternoon, NOAA42 was dispatched by NHC to perform a reconnaissance mission as the storm approached the Isle of Youth.  During the flight, the storm strength remained even and its forward progress stalled.  But afterward, it resumed its northeastly track and, that night, crossed the Isle of Youth and Cuba, gaining strength as it did so.  The following day, the storm re-emerged from Cuba’s north shore.

NOAA 42 lower fuselage radar depiction of Hurricane Lili at 01:30 UTC Oct. 19, 1996 (NOAA/AOML/HRD)

NOAA 42 lower fuselage radar depiction of Hurricane Lili at 01:30 UTC Oct. 19, 1996

As it did so, NOAA42 flew another reconnaissance mission into the hurricane. Lili’s central pressure dropped during this flight and its rain bands were becoming more organized.  The storm pounded the Bahamas and south Florida with heavy rains, up to 12″ in isolated areas.  The hurricane intensified to Category-3 status in the following 24 hour period, with its winds peaking at 115 mph (185 km/hr) as it departed from the Bahamas.

It continued to move toward the northeast maintaining hurricane strength.  It even slowed at mid-ocean where it ramped back up to Category-2 status. But from there it began to weaken and became extratropical.  The system was tracked over the British Isles where it was considered to be the strongest storm to affect the islands since 1961.  It produced wind gusts up to 92mph (148 km/hr) in Wales.  Waves of 40 ft (12 m) dislodged an oil platform in the North Sea, and a 4-ft (1.2-m) storm surge moved up the Thames River.  It moved into the North Sea and was absorbed into a frontal zone.  During its life, Lili was responsible for 22 deaths and US$660 million in damages; almost half of the total damage was in the United Kingdom.

Paper written by HRD scientists using data from Hurricane Lili

Dunion, J. P., S. H. Houston, C. S. Velden, and M. D. Powell, 2002: Application of surface-adjusted GOES low-level cloud0drift winds in the environment of Atlantic tropical cyclones.  Part II:  Integration into surface wind analyses.  Mon. Wea. Rev., 130, 1347-1355.

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