Friday, September 12th, 2008...12:28 pm
Hurricane Gilbert – 20th Anniversary
Today marks the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Gilbert. For most Jamaicans, Hurricane Gilbert was the worst hurricane to hit Jamaica since “ ’The 51 storm”. For some, recalling the events of this notorious hurricane may bring back bitter sweet memories. For those who died, with their loved ones, their memories still live on.
A tropical wave that was exiting the African coastline on September 3 developed into the 12th tropical depression of the season on September 8, while approaching the Windward Islands. The cyclone rapidly strengthened to hurricane status on September 10, as a west-northwest motion brought Gilbert into the eastern Caribbean Sea. Gilbert passed directly over Jamaica on September 12 as a major hurricane, becoming the first direct impact for the island from a hurricane since 1951.
Winds gusted to nearly 150 mph as Gilbert produced a 9-foot storm surge along Jamaica’s northeast coast. Jamaica was devastated as the eyewall traversed the entire length of the island. During this period the eye contracted from 25 nmi to only 12 nmi upon exiting Jamaica.
Gilbert emerged off the western coastline of Jamaica and began a period of extraordinarily rapid intensification. The ferocious hurricane strengthened to Category 4 status as its northern eyewall pounded Grand Cayman Island with 155 mph wind gusts early on September 13.
Gilbert’s remarkable intensification trend continued as the cyclone reached Category 5 status on the afternoon of the 13th and eventually reached peak winds of 185 mph. The minimum central pressure of the cyclone plummeted to 888 millibars, which represented a 70-millibar drop in only a 24-hour period. This minimum central pressure recorded by NOAA aircraft remains the lowest pressure ever recorded in the western hemisphere.
Gilbert crossed the northeast coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula on September 14, becoming the first Category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic basin to strike land since Camille in 1969.
Gilbert weakened over the Yucatan Peninsula and emerged into the western Gulf of Mexico as a Category 2 hurricane. Gilbert’s large circulation regained major hurricane status as the cyclone continued on a west-northwest course on the 16th. The hurricane made its final landfall near the town of La Pesca on the Mexican Gulf Coast on the evening of September 16 as a strong Category 3 hurricane.
Gilbert’s remnants spawned 29 tornadoes over Texas on September 18, with flooding spreading to the Midwest as the remnants merged with a frontal boundary over Missouri on September 19. Although no reliable measurements of storm surge exist from Gilbert’s two Mexican landfalls, estimates are that Gilbert produced between 15 and 20 feet of surge along the Yucatan and eight to 13 feet at landfall in mainland Mexico.
Gilbert’s large size and impacts were felt over much of the Caribbean, Central America as well as portions of the United States. The death toll of 318 gives an idea of the scope of Gilbert’s impacts: Mexico 202, Jamaica 45, Haiti 30, Guatemala 12, Honduras 12, Dominican Republic 5, Venezuela 5, United States 3, Costa Rica 2, and Nicaragua 2.
The deaths from Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Venezuela were caused by inland flash flooding from outer rainbands.