Hurricane Florence was the second hurricane of the 2006 Atlantic Season, and the first to strike Bermuda in almost exactly three years. Like Ernesto, Hurricane Florence was a Category One Hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Scale, but for a longer period of time. Florence was also a stronger storm with maximum sustained winds reaching 90 mph at peak intensity. A very vast system, Florence created plenty of wave activity and heavy surf along much of the East Coast of the United States as well as the Bahamas and the Canadian Maritimes. Mercifully no one was reported injured or killed by the storm's effects.
Until the latter portion of August, the 2006 Atlantic Hurricane Season had been mild to the point of being below average. Only four tropical storms had formed, and none of them had strengthened into a hurricane. Forecasters such as Dr. William Gray of Colorado State, and those at NOAA had revised their seasonal projections downward from forecasts made earlier in the year. Suspicions of El Nino were being raised as an active season in both the Eastern and Western Pacific coupled with the mild activity in the Atlantic, suggested ENSO's return. Even through things finally picked up again the Atlantic with Ernesto, the fifth named storm of 2006, there had only been twelve hours in which a tropical system in the Atlantic reached and maintained at least minimal hurricane intensity.
It was Labor Day Weekend, and we had yet seen a major storm in the Atlantic. The last time there had been such dearth in activity was back during the 1997 season when there were no named storms at all during the month of August for the first time since 1961. Ironically, the 1997 season also happened to coincide with one of the strongest El Nino's on record. Things didn't start out that tranquil as the beginning of the 2006 season seemed to pick up right where 2005 left off with a named storm in both June and July, which is still about average compared to the same periods in Atlantic hurricane seasons from 1950 to 2000. Regardless, memories from the monumental season that was 2005, left many still anticipating more activity and higher numbers in 2006.
Following Ernesto's departure, the Atlantic tropics remained busy. On September 3rd, the sixth tropical depression formed in the Eastern Atlantic to the west of the Cape Verde Islands. A bit more than 24 hours later, Florence was born while many were wrapping up their Labor Day Weekends, and saying an "unofficial" farewell to the Summer of 2006. Despite some initial struggles, Florence would become the strongest hurricane of the season to date with 90 mph winds, and a minimum central pressure of 972 millibars, or 28.70 inches of Hg (Mercury). It also lasted at hurricane intensity for a much longer period of time than Ernesto. The storm would become the first hurricane to affect land in 2006 as it menaced the island of Bermuda, which was last impacted by such a storm almost three years to the day.
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Almost averaging a hit by tropical storm, or hurricane every two and a half years, Bermuda was last impacted by Hurricane Fabian in September, 2003. Fabian, which made a direct hit on Bermuda, ended up being the worst storm the island had experienced in fifty years. Florence would be no match for Fabian, which had winds of 120 mph at its peak. Nevertheless, Florence would produce wind gusts in excess of 110 mph on the island.
While the eye of Florence stayed some 60 miles to the West of Bermuda, the storm lashed the island with its strongest portion, the northeast quadrant. The Weather Channel crew led by Jim Cantore, was blasted by the strong Category One and Category Two force winds. It made for a great storyline to add to the TWC's hit show, "Storm Stories," which is actually narrated by Cantore.
Meanwhile, the Western Atlantic was being stirred up by the churning of the ocean water by Florence. High waves, heavy surf, and rip currents were being felt from the Bahamas in the South to portions of the Canadian Maritimes in the North. As a matter of fact, the National Hurricane Center issued a Heavy Surf Advisory for portions of the U.S. East Coast from Northern Florida to Maine. Heavy surf ate away at the Jersey Shore, especially at Sandy Hook. In an effort to capture some of Florence's effects along the Jersey coast. I traveled out to several locations: South Amboy and Laurence Harbor in coastal Middlesex County, and Sandy Hook in Monmouth County.
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As Florence pulled away from Bermuda, the heavy surf and rip currents reached their peak on Monday, September 11th and Tuesday, September 12th, 2006. I took my trip to the coast on the twelfth since I had class at college the preceding Monday. When I got to both South Amboy and Laurence Harbor, I noticed the effects of the heavy surf generated by the storm were negligible. Many of the incoming waves were being absorbed by Staten Island which directly faces the Atlantic. Despite the lack of wave action and heavy surf at these two areas, it was still a wonderful day to be outside. The temperatures were comfortable, and the pressure gradient created by the high over New England, and the low from Florence created breezy conditions at all three coastal locations.
At Sandy Hook, I was able to observe the full impact of the storm's effects on the Jersey coast. Wave heights were in the four to six foot range from what I could guess. Down to the South at Manasquan, tide levels were between 4.0 and 5.2 feet above normal. The difference in what I saw at Sandy Hook, and what I encountered at South Amboy and Laurence Harbor was the fact that Sandy Hook directly faced the ocean while South Amboy and Laurence Harbor are situated behind Staten Island, and took less of a direct hit. Eventually, Florence, which by this time was a vast storm system with tropical storm force winds extending 415 miles from the center of circulation, and hurricane force winds extending 70 miles from the center, lost its tropical characteristics and brushed Newfoundland in the Canadian Maritimes. Despite the damage caused on Bermuda, there were thankfully no deaths reported.
See the full collection of video footage of Florence's impact on Sandy Hook.
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