Dean’s Damages Delimited

August 20, 2007

Hurricane Dean, is the most powerful storm to roil the waters of the Caribbean since Wilma in 2005. So far it’s been responsible for at least six deaths. After ravaging Martinique and St. Lucia as a category two storm, Dean rapidly picked up strength as it crossed into the warmer sea. Fortunately for the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Jamaica the powerful category 4 hurricane kept to its predicted track and passed somewhat south of the threatened islands.

So far, although Dean’s damages have been substantial (see related article), they could have been much worse. The last hurricane to directly hit Jamaica – Gilbert a category 5 storm in 1988 – killed 45 people and caused over $4 billion in damages [source Wikipedia]. Authorities had feared that Dean might do the same, but, although it battered the southern coast of the island with 145 mph (230 km/hr) winds and around 20 inches (51 cms) of heavy rains, Jamaica was apparently spared even worse damage.

According to the most recent forecast from The National Hurricane Center in Miami, Dean is currently moving toward the west at around 20 mph (32 km/hr), and is expected to continue on this track for the next 24 hours. The storm’s center is expected to pass south of the Cayman Islands later this morning.

“Maximum sustained winds have increased to near 150 mph (240 km/hr) with higher gusts,” said the NHC. This power, which the NHC said “could reach category five strength” later today, potentially puts Dean in a class with Katrina, Wilma, Andrew, Gilbert and other category five hurricanes that have caused the most damage and loss of life in the region.

Those hurricane force winds “extend outward up to 60 miles (95 kms) from the center,” said the NHC, “and tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 205 miles (335 kms).” Minimum central pressure, according to the most recent aerial observation, is a very low 926 mb (27.34 inches). Wilma set the record low pressure for Atlantic hurricanes at 882 mb (23.06 inches).

Even though Dean’s destruction has been lessened by its trajectory, the heavy rains and storm surge flooding – 5 to 7 feet ($1.6 to 2.3 meters) above normal tide levels – along with large and dangerous battering waves, have undoubtedly caused substantial damages along the coasts.

So far Dean’s path has been an almost entirely straight line from the Lesser Antilles and along the southern coasts of the islands in its path. On this course it would come ashore on the East Coast of the Yucatan Peninsula early Tuesday morning. The potential impact point is in the middle of the peninsula, near the Belize border with the Mexican State of Quintana Roo.

Dean is expected to come ashore about 200 miles (320 kms) south of Cancun and the island of Cozumel, where Wilma hit with devastation in 2005. But Dean’s current size indicates that these resort areas will still receive a battering. Local authorities are already in the process of speeding up the evacuation of thousands of tourists from the area.

Source: NHC, news reports

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