Andrew was the Big One but worse has happened and will happen again – Palm Beach Post

Andrew was as virulent as a tornado but nearly twice the size of Delaware. It clawed roofs from homes, ground neighborhoods to sticks, split palm trees with plywood, and tossed boats from Biscayne Bay, yet only 15 people died in its initial mauling. The storm spent less than four hours chewing through South Florida, but it changed its survivors forever.
Hurricane Andrew was then, in the months and years that followed its Aug. 24, 1992 landfall, considered the “Big One.” Boosted to Cat 5 status in a 2002 reanalysis with top wind speeds of 165 mph at the coast, it lives in infamy for the havoc wrought.
“We watched the central pressure drop and drop and drop,” said National Hurricane Center Specialist Richard Pasch, who was on the team 30 years ago forecasting Andrew when gales wrenched the radar from the roof of the center’s Coral Gables office. “It was certainly one of the worst storms. For many people it was the worst.” 
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There have been larger and faster and wetter hurricanes since Andrew. Where Andrew had hurricane-force winds at landfall that spread 30 to 45 miles from its center, Irma’s ruinous reach was 80 miles. Wilma’s hurricane-force winds stretched 90 miles from its center as it closed in on Cape Romano on Oct. 24, 2005. 
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Whether a spate of Cat 5s — six since 2016 — and soggy lesser storms that were no less devastating can be directly attributed to a warming world is still under deliberation, with scientists wary of blaming individual events on climate change. 
Nascent studies have shown a feverish Earth may stunt hurricane fecundity by, in part, producing more shredding wind shear to kill storms in their infancy.
And six consecutive years of above-normal tropical cyclone activity were aided by super satellites seeing what was unknowable 60 years ago. Named storm numbers also swelled when the National Hurricane Center began naming subtropical cyclones in 2002. 
Still, many agree that warmer waters mean more fuel for the storms that do form and more bouts of rapid intensification. Higher sea levels mean more storm surge charging inland. And some climate models that dig into a past before civilization have indicated a slowing of the Gulf Stream current, which could lead to a larger pool of high-octane water at Florida’s doorstep. 
Category 5 Hurricane #Andrew… 29 years ago this morning. #HurricaneAndrew https://t.co/O5tXQxz93p pic.twitter.com/CxiTolj0W1
“Undoubtedly, the research shows that we are seeing more intense hurricanes,” said Jo Muller, a paleoclimatologist and associate professor at Florida Gulf Coast University’s Water School. “When you have really warm sea surface temperatures you can go like Hurricane Michael from a strong Cat 2 to a Cat 5 in a day and that’s terrifying.”
Hurricane Michael, which walloped Mexico Beach in Florida’s Panhandle as a Category 5 in 2018, was one of several influenced by a trip over the Gulf of Mexico’s deeply warm loop current or one of its eddies.
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 passed over the same loop current about three weeks apart and both deepened to Cat 5 storms. Category 3 Hurricane Isidore in 2002, and 2008’s Gustave and Ike, both Cat 4s, also fed from the simmering fast-moving current.
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The loop current eventually flows through the Florida Straits then north along the east coast of Florida as the Gulf Stream.
Hurricane Andrew’s bravado rapidly intensified when it moved over the Gulf Stream current and closed in on Fender Point, eight nautical miles east-northeast of Homestead. It had also undergone an eyewall replacement cycle, where thunderstorms circling the center of the storm start to uncoil, but can be replaced by tighter stronger storms. 
It was 4:35 A.M. when the Miami radar failed, blown from the roof of the National Hurricane Center. At 5:05 a.m., Andrew made landfall. 
“I’ve never seen anything that looked like Andrew that wasn’t a powerful tornado,” said Bryan Norcross, who was a Miami-based TV meteorologist during Andrew. “Neighborhood after neighborhood after neighborhood was destroyed.”
Norcross is known for telling people to hide from the storm in their bathtubs with a mattress over their heads. It was instinctive and spontaneous advice, he said in a July interview.  
“I don’t know how many people did that and lived through their house coming apart,” he said. “When it was over, all they could see was sky.” 
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More than 25,000 homes were obliterated. More than 100,000 homes were damaged. And farmers suffered more than $1 billion in losses to crops, according to the National Hurricane Center’s reanalysis of Andrew. 
“For the state of Florida, Andrew changed everything,” said Erik Salna, associate director for education and outreach at Florida International University’s Extreme Events Institute. “It woke us up. It changed building codes and emergency management preparedness so that we became the leader in handling storms.” 
The International Hurricane Research Center at FIU was created after Andrew. Now under the Extreme Events Institute, the center led to the creation of the Wall of Wind. The 12-fan monster can simulate winds up to 160 mph.
A new program aims to simulate 200-mph winds. 
“We need to go to 200 mph because that’s where Mother Nature is going,” Salna said. 
Thirty years after Andrew, melting ice at the top of the world could mean a wider, deeper feeding trough for Atlantic basin hurricanes off Florida’s east coast.
A growing number of studies indicate the freshwater from thawing glaciers is slowing a pivotal Atlantic Ocean circulatory pattern that includes the Gulf Stream current. The circulation is a vast cooling system for the planet, transporting overheated water from the tropics north along a massive conveyor belt.
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The mechanisms that drive the circulation are salinity and temperature. As the current moves north along the U.S. East Coast it begins to cool. Near Greenland the salty, cool water is dense enough to sink and swing back south crossing the equator into the Southern Hemisphere.
Too much freshwater from ice melt can dilute the saltiness, making it less dense so it doesn’t dive as deep or as fast, and the flow slows.
The problem is there’s been little to support the slowdown in actual observations, said Lisa Beal, a professor of ocean sciences at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.
“The ocean is the weak link in terms of what we know about climate change,” she said.
Reliable measurements of the Gulf Stream have been taken for about 35 years and they don’t “robustly” show any weakening, said Beal, who nonetheless agrees that historic modeling does show a slowdown. 
A secondary effect of a slower Gulf Stream would be higher sea levels along the east coast as warm water stacks up and expands.
“There are a lot of things that affect sea level in Florida and the Gulf Stream is one of the big ones,” Muller said.
Brian Soden, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Miami, has run models that simulate a Hurricane Andrew-like storm at different sea level heights.
The Atlantic Coastal Ridge, which rises to as high as 40 feet in some areas and is as wide as 12 miles south-southwest of Miami, protected inland areas from Andrew’s saltwater push in 1992.
Andrew’s surge came at high tide and ranged 4 to 6 feet in northern Biscayne Bay. It was as high as 16.9 feet at the Burger King International Headquarters on the western shoreline in the center of the bay. 
Another Andrew would overtop the protective ridge of shelly sand, coquina and limestone with 3 feet of sea level rise, Soden said. 
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“It’s not an immediate threat,” Soden said about the 3-feet of sea level rise. “That won’t happen until the end of the century.”
Another concern with climate change is warmer air can hold more water vapor leading to heavier rainfall. That combined with sea level rise can increase flooding risks when the land can’t drain.
Andrew dropped as much as 7 inches of rain in areas of southeast Florida. It was enough to cause some local flooding, but Andrew was considered a mostly dry storm. 
Tropical cyclone rainfall rates are forecast to increase 10% to 15% within about 60 miles of a storm with 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, of warming. That’s according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration review of global warming and tropical cyclone research that was revised in July. For comparison’s sake, the Paris Climate Agreement aims to keep global temperature rise this century below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
The report from NOAA doesn’t mention the Gulf Stream current, and Soden is less convinced of a pooling Gulf Stream’s influence on future hurricanes. He said the boldest evidence of tropical cyclone ties to climate change are sea level rise and flooding rainfall.
Hurricane Harvey in 2017 dumped more than 5 feet of rain in some areas of Texas. Up to 3 feet of rain fell in North Carolina during 2018’s Hurricane Florence.
“All things being equal, a warmer ocean will lead to more and more powerful tropical storms,” said Jerry F. McManus, professor and chairman of Columbia University’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. “But all things are not equal and a warm ocean isn’t the only requirement for a hurricane to form.”
There were stronger storms before Andrew, which at its peak had sustained winds of 175 mph. 
The Great Labor Day Hurricane in 1935 reached 185 mph winds when it hit the Florida Keys. In 1980, Hurricane Allen had winds of 190 mph before hitting Texas as a Category 3 storm. In 1969, Camille’s winds were 175 mph at landfall near Waveland, Miss. 
Before 2016, the Atlantic basin went eight years with no Cat 5 hurricanes.
Before Hurricane Andrew, and excluding the Keys, there hadn’t been a landfalling hurricane in South Florida since 1964’s Isbell hit near Everglades City. Hurricane David skimmed the east coast from Stuart to Daytona Beach in 1979. Floyd strafed Key Largo in 1987. 
“It was a different mindset back then than it is now with all the anticipation and nervousness,” said Norcross, noting there was no social media or weather apps when Andrew was making its way to Florida. “It was easier to communicate with people because everyone watched TV. Now you have 10 different sources or more.” 
In 1992, a 28-year-old Jim Cantore, with a full head of hair, was sitting behind a desk at the Weather Channel pointing to a blurry satellite image of Andrew on a television screen with no fancy graphics.
There was no warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Miami office, as there is today. Doppler technology was just being introduced to weather service offices and hadn’t yet been installed at the hurricane center. Andrew’s deathblow to the old radar hastened that installation. 
Salna was the on-air meteorologist at the NBC affiliate in Fort Myers. As news reports from Miami came out following Andrew’s landfall, people thought South Florida had dodged a bullet. But news crews hadn’t reached Homestead yet. 
“I’ll never forget the AP newswire came up and it was just one line; “Homestead Airforce Base is gone,'” Salna said. 
Now at FOX Weather, Norcross said Andrew divides his life, a bookmark of a world before the storm and after. He imagines it’s the same for most people who lived through it and the chaos that followed.
“When I hear reporters say after a storm like Michael that it’s going to take months to clean up, I think, no, it’s going to take years,” Norcross said. “No one likes to talk about what life was like in the two years after Andrew because it was horrible.”

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