The 2005 Atlantic Hurricane Season was already off to a very fast start as it entered the month of July. The month of June was one of the thirteen most active Junes ever with two named storms: Arlene and Bret. Then, several days into the new month, another two storms developed including Tropical Storm Cindy, and what would become Hurricane Dennis. When Dennis was done, it would go down as one of the most powerful ever in the month of July with 150 mph winds at its peak.
On top of that, Dennis had a couple brushes with Category Five intensity as its winds reached levels of 150 mph and 145 mph, which gave it a peak strength of Category Four on the Saffir-Simpson Scale. It also became the fifth storm in less than 12 months to strike at least a part of the Florida Peninsula. During the 2004 Atlantic Season, four hurricanes: Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne struck a part, or all of Florida over a span of a month and a half.
The Caribbean didn't go unscathed either. Of the 32 deaths so far attributed to Dennis, 27 of them were in the islands that dot the Caribbean Sea including Cuba and Haiti, which were hit the hardest by the storm. Perhaps the most devastated of all the towns impacted by Hurricane Dennis was the coastal Cuban town of Cienfuegos on the South Central shore of the biggest island in the entire Caribbean. But, in the end, it was the damage done to Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi, which drew tremendous attention since these areas were hit hard by Ivan in 2004.
On July 4th, 2005, one day after Tropical Storm Cindy developed in the Northwest Caribbean Sea near the Mexican resort city of Cozumel, another disturbance was generating concern in the Western Atlantic and Eastern Caribbean Sea. This disturbance was already raising fears that it could become a significant player in the coming days for not only the islands, but also for the United States coast. And, by the late evening on July 4th, those fears began becoming a full fledged reality as it organized into the fourth depression of the still young 2005 Atlantic Hurricane Season.
Originating some 100 miles to the West-Northwest of Grenada in the Southern Windward islands, Tropical Depression Four only had winds of 30 mph, and a minimum central pressure of 1010 mb, or 29.83 inches of Hg, but forecasts were already calling for it to be a hurricane within 72 hours, and that was only the beginning. Within 12 hours of forming, the depression grew into the fourth named storm of the season, and was given the name Dennis. By 8:00 PM EDT on July 5th, the storm, which had continued to strengthen, now had winds of 45 mph, and a barometric pressure of 29.56 inches, or 1001 mb.
Becoming a more grave situation by the hour, the fledgling tropical storm started to grab attention when late evening forecasts from the National Hurricane Center predicted the storm would be a major hurricane with 100 knot, or 115 mph winds within 72 hours. At that time, 11:00 PM EDT on July 5th, Dennis only had winds of 50 mph while its minimum central pressure was only down to 29.53 inches, or 1000 mb. However, forecasters noted that the system had become better organized, and was entering a region where upper level winds and sea surface temperatures were very conducive towards intensification.
Some nineteen hours after that forecast, Air Force Reserve Aircraft found that the storm had indeed strengthened and organized into a minimal hurricane with 80 mph winds. The pressure measured at that time was found to be 985 mb, or 29.09 inches of Hg. There was also a 79 knot wind at the 700 mb level in the northeastern quadrant of the tropical cyclone, which when extrapolated to the surface was 70 knots or 80 mph. Headed toward Jamaica, there was no doubt that Dennis was going to become a major hurricane, a very rare occurrence for the month of July.
By the late afternoon of July 7th, Dennis had exceeded expectations by becoming a major hurricane ahead of schedule. Maximum sustained winds were 115 mph while the minimum central pressure dropped to 957 mb, or 28.26 inches of Hg. The storm was now taking aim on Cuba after making an unusual side step to the north and just missed a direct hit on Jamaica. The first Hurricane Warnings were issued for the lower portion of the Florida Keys while portions of the Southern coast of Cuba were bracing for a severe blow from the hurricane.
Nearly 24 hours later, Dennis was making a house call to the South Central Coast of Cuba with winds of 150 mph. The hardest hit area was the coastal town of Cienfuegos, where the eye made landfall. Dennis would spend the next 11 hours moving across the narrow, but rugged width of the island. For those who may not be aware, Cuba is not only the largest island in the Caribbean, but it is also the second most mountainous behind Hispanola with elevations as high as 7,000 to 8,000 feet above sea level. It would be early morning on Saturday, July 9th, before Dennis would be back over warm water.
Now over the Florida Straits and the Southeastern Gulf of Mexico, Dennis had weakened to just a Category One Hurricane with winds of 90 mph. During the rest of the morning and most of the afternoon of July 9th, Dennis struggled to regain the intensity it once had. However, by the late afternoon and early evening of the ninth, the storm was beginning to show the form it had prior to striking Cuba. Within 12 hours, the pressure in Dennis had dropped 17 mb. By 7:00 PM EDT, the pressure was down another 8 mb to 947 mb, or 27.96 inches of Hg.
Dennis didn't stop there. Over the next thirteen hours, the pressure in Dennis dropped another 17 mb to 930 mb, or 27.46 inches of Hg. Winds returned again to Category Four strength by late Saturday evening, and in the early morning hours of Sunday, July 10th, they began approaching the same levels it had prior to making landfall in Cuba. Thankfully though, the storm didn't get any stronger as it approached the Gulf Coast of Alabama and the Florida Panhandle. This region, which was still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Ivan's impact some ten months earlier.
Being merciful, Dennis, one of the most powerful hurricanes to make landfall in the United States during the month of July, decreased in strength as its circulation began to interact with the United States Gulf Coast. Winds dropped to 120 mph, which was just slightly weaker than Ivan was when it made landfall just a bit to the west. Ivan had 125 mph winds when it slammed into the Florida Panhandle near Pensacola in September, 2004. Like all hurricanes and tropical storms, Dennis gradually weakened as it headed inland, but brought heavy rains to Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.
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Damage estimates for Hurricane Dennis in the United States range between one billion and two and a half billion dollars, which would place it somewhere in the top fifteen costliest storms of all time. However, the damage could have been a lot worse. Of course, that is little consolation to those 470,000 customers who lost their electricity in the moments when the storm hit. There was flooding in the town of St. Mark's along the coast in Florida's Big Bend area as well as on U.S. Highway 98, a major coastal road in the Florida Panhandle.
However, what is overlooked is the devastation done to the islands in the Caribbean. Briefly mentioned earlier, the coastal town of Cienfuegos in Cuba, which lies on the island's South Central shoreline and is home to 200,000 people, was heavily damaged by the storm, which struck there with its peak intensity winds of 150 mph. Photos in newspapers showed telephone and utility poles toppled as the community had 85 percent of its powerlines down, and extensive damage to its communications infrastructure according to the Cuban Meteorological Service and Civil Defense.
Actual observations from Cienfuegos reported wind gusts as high as 149 mph. The storm wasn't done there as it moved along a path that had its northeast quadrant, the strongest portion of a hurricane, cross a 70 mile track along the island. Even the Cuban capital, Havana wasn't spared the storm's fury as Dennis passed right over it on its way back to the water. A total of 32 were killed in both Cuba (10 people including an 18 month old baby), and Haiti (22 people). While the island of Hispanola, which Haiti is part of, was spared the strong winds from Dennis, it couldn't avoid the torrential rains.
The tropical rains from Dennis produced widespred flooding, raging rivers, and collapsed bridges that killed 17 people in the town of Grand-Goave in Southern Haiti. The island, which has had to deal with political turmoil in recent years, also was hit hard by Hurricane Jeanne in September, 2004. Before Jeanne became a major hurricane that pounded the Florida East Coast, it caused tremendous floods and mudslides in Haiti, which left an estimated 3,000 people dead. Meanwhile, further south in Jamaica, where 17 people were killed, and some 8,000 homes were destroyed by Ivan, high winds knocked down power lines, which blocked main roads around the country.
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Hurricane Dennis was a rare powerful storm for the month of July. There have only been six major hurricanes that have ever occurred in the Tropical Atlantic Basin since records began in 1851. Dennis will most likely go down as the strongest ever recorded in the month of July since the most powerful storm during this month had winds of 120 knots, or approximately 140 mph. At its peak, Hurricane Dennis had winds of 150 mph. However, it only made landfall as a strong Category Three Hurricane at 120 mph, which is very close to the top, if it is not already there. Below is a table of all major hurricanes in the month of July.
Dennis wasn't the end of activity in the month of July, 2005 either. Shortly after Dennis made landfall near Pensacola, Florida, there was another disturbance in the Western Atlantic. That disturbance eventually became Tropical Storm Emily, the fifth named storm of the 2005 Atlantic Hurricane Season. With the formation of Emily, the 2005 season has gotten off to the fastest start since 1950. Not even the busy seasons of 1933 (21 storms, 10 hurricanes, 5 major hurricanes), 1995 (19 storms, 11 hurricanes, and 5 major hurricanes), and 1969 (18 storms, 12 hurricanes, and 5 major hurricanes) have had such a start.
In 1933, the fifth storm didn't develop until July 25th that year while 1995 didn't have its fifth named storm until the very last day of the month. The year 1969 wasn't nearly as close with its first named storm developing on July 25th, and its fifth storm emerging exactly one month later on August 25th. On the flip side, the year 1997, which had four named storms by the end of July, ended up with eight storms that year along with three hurricanes and one major hurricane. As a matter of fact, there were no storms or hurricane during the entire month of August, 1997, which was the first time that had happened since 1961.
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