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Modified satellite image showing the progression of Hurricane Andrew in August 1992.
Nobody who lived in southern Florida during the August 1992 passage of Hurricane Andrew (Figure 12-1) will ever forget the experience. Andrew was fairly small but remarkably powerful, with wind gusts of up to 280 km/hr (175 mph) that moved rapidly across the peninsula. In one regard Andrew was not as destructive as many other hurricanes; although it did cause some local flooding, it did not yield extremely heavy rainfall. This contrasts strongly with Florida's experience with Hurricane Irene in October 1999.
Irene was typical of the strong tropical storms that form in the latter part of hurricane season: large and slow-moving. Although these storms lack the wind speeds of storms such as Andrew, they can bring heavy rainfall for days and cause extensive flooding. In the case of Irene, much of southern Florida received up to 27 cm (17 in.) of rainfall that produced widespread flooding. Nadia Gorriz of Miami-Dade County was among the many victims. Eight months pregnant, she took on the task of cleaning up the mud that accumulated inside her house. The job was made more difficult by the fact that a swamp formed around her house, providing living quarters for snakes and fish. She put the cleanup in perspective: "We made it through Andrew. You just threw everything out and there wasn't that much water. This is the worst cleanup. We've gone through two gallons of Clorox II so far."
Hurricanes do not restrict their fury to coastal and inland regions; they have been the nemesis of mariners for centuries. They have sunk an untold number of ships and even played an important role in World War II when a single typhoon (the equivalent of a hurricane over the western Pacific) sank or heavily damaged several American ships, destroyed hundreds of carrier-based aircraft, and killed more than 800 sailors. The death toll exceeded that of most naval battles during the war.
In this chapter we first describe the setting for hurricanes and tropical storms. We then describe their general characteristics, stages in development, and typical patterns of movement, concluding with hurricane monitoring and warning systems.