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Posted 9/5/2014

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By John H. Campbell
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District


The 2004 hurricane season was unlike any other season in the past century.  Since hurricane records started being kept in the 1850s, it was the only time that four storms hit the state of Florida.  It was also the first time since 1886, when Texas was hit, that four hurricanes had made landfall in the same state in one year.

The season itself got off to a late start.  The first named storm didn’t develop until July 31.  However, once it got going, the advisories from the National Hurricane Center (NHC) were constant through mid-October.  Even the end of the season was slightly delayed, with Tropical Storm Otto being tracked until Dec. 5, a few days past the traditional end of the season, Nov. 30. 

Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne—those are four names that Florida residents won’t soon forget.  The estimated $50 billion in damages caused by those storms was a record that only lasted a year until Katrina, Rita and Wilma hit various portions of the United States.  The four storms resulted in numerous missions for Jacksonville District and other neighboring districts from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Charley

The storm that would become Hurricane Charley emerged as a tropical wave off the coast of Africa Aug. 4.  It took a few days to organize, but Aug. 9, the NHC started issuing advisories on Tropical Depression Three as it entered the Caribbean.  The storm was named Charley the next day.  By Aug. 11, as the storm was bearing down on Jamaica, it was evident that a strike along Florida’s Gulf Coast was likely.  Hurricane warnings were issued Aug. 12 for an area stretching from north of Tampa to the Florida Keys.

In the 24 hours before it made landfall, Charley demonstrated it had a couple of surprises.  First, it came ashore further south than many people expected.  Forecasts were largely expecting the storm to hit the Tampa area, but Charley made landfall near Punta Gorda, about 75 miles south.  The second surprise was the rapid intensification of winds from an estimated 105 mph to 145 mph.  People preparing for a Category 2 storm were instead feeling the forces from a Category 4 event. 

The storm cut a path of destruction through several communities in southwest Florida including Port Charlotte, Lakeland, Orlando and Daytona Beach.  Its winds had decreased to 75 mph by the time it emerged in the Atlantic.  The storm made landfall again in South Carolina, but eventually merged with a cold front and lost its tropical characteristics by Aug. 15.

Charley was directly responsible for nine deaths in Florida, another death in Rhode Island, and five deaths in Cuba and Jamaica combined.  Damages were estimated at $15.1 billion in 2011, making it the seventh most costly storm in American history.

Frances

Like Charley, the origins of what would become Frances formed as a tropical wave that began moving off the African coast Aug. 21.  The NHC started issuing advisories on Tropical Depression Six Aug. 24.  The next day, the storm was named Frances. It became a hurricane Aug. 26.  At this point it was far from land, but it continued a cycle of intensification and weakening for several days. 

It wasn’t until Aug. 31 that it became apparent Florida would see its second hurricane of the year.  Hurricane warnings were posted Sept. 2 for the Atlantic coast of Florida stretching from north of Daytona Beach to south of Miami.  This storm had peaked repeatedly with winds of 145 mph.  However, Frances had a surprise in store as well—it slowed down while approaching the Florida coast. 

When a hurricane warning is issued, it’s an advisory that hurricane conditions are expected in the warned area within 24 hours.  However, people along the Atlantic Coast had to wait nearly three days while the forward speed of Frances slowed below 10 mph, almost becoming stationary for a time.  As it approached the Florida coast, Frances weakened but still packed a punch.  It made landfall as a Category 2 storm near Stuart during the early morning hours of Sept. 5, the Sunday of Labor Day weekend.  It exited the state as a tropical storm within 24 hours, and came ashore again on the Gulf Coast south of Tallahassee the next day. 

While Frances wasn’t as strong as Charley, it certainly left its mark.  Five people were killed in Florida, another in Ohio, and one more in the Bahamas.  Fort Pierce was hit hard, as was Cape Canaveral, where NASA reported damage to the vehicle assembly building at the Kennedy Space Center.  Several college football games had to be canceled, including Florida State at University of Miami.  Perhaps one of the biggest impacts was the evacuation of 2.8 million people, the most since Hurricane Hugo in 1989.  The damage from Frances was estimated at $9.5 billion in 2011, making it the ninth most costly storm.

Ivan

While Frances was threatening the Bahamas and Florida Aug. 31, another wave was forming off the African coast.  Tropical Depression Nine was identified Sept. 2, and the storm was named Ivan the next day.  Ivan became a hurricane Sept. 5, and quickly intensified into a major storm.  It followed a path similar to Charley for a few days, coming in close contact with Jamaica before taking a more westerly track.  While traversing the Caribbean, Ivan would reach Category 5 status three times.   

On Sept. 11, forecasts put southern Florida in the bull’s eye yet again, but Ivan continued to drift west.  As it skirted by the western edge of Cuba with winds of 160 mph, the threat had shifted from south Florida to the Panhandle.  Hurricane warnings were issued for Apalachicola and points west Sept. 14.  Ivan made landfall near Gulf Shores, Ala. with winds of 130 mph during the early morning hours of Sept. 16.

Ivan was a much larger storm when compared to Charley and Frances, as hurricane force winds extended 105 miles and tropical storm winds extended 300 miles from the center.  It quickly decreased in intensity as it made its way through Alabama, but continued to produce rain over the eastern United States.  It lost tropical characteristics Sept. 18.  However, the remnants emerged into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Maryland, headed south and turned west (crossing Florida along the way), and re-emerged in the Gulf of Mexico as a tropical storm Sept. 22.  It made landfall again near the Texas-Louisiana border Sept. 24.

Ivan’s power showed up in the damage it left behind.  Fourteen people were killed in Florida, another 11 were killed in other states, while an additional 67 were killed in other countries.  Portions of the Interstate 10 bridge at Pensacola Bay were severely damaged, as was the U.S. Highway 90 bridge in the same area.  The 2011 damage estimate placed the total from Ivan at $18.8 billion, ranking it as the sixth costliest storm in American history.

Jeanne

As with the other storms that hit Florida in 2004, Jeanne traced its beginnings to a tropical wave that emerged off the African coast Sept. 7.  However, it was nearly a week before the system developed into Tropical Depression Eleven.  On Sept. 14, the system was named Tropical Storm Jeanne.  As Hurricane Ivan was pounding the Florida Panhandle Sept. 16, Jeanne strengthened into a hurricane. 

At that point, Jeanne was just off the coast of the Dominican Republic.  The storm moved over land which caused a decrease in intensity.  As the storm moved over the mountains in the Dominican Republic, the rain increased.  The heavy rain, coupled with the slowing forward motion produced torrential downpours in Haiti, causing floods and mudslides that killed thousands. 

Jeanne emerged off the coast of Haiti Sept. 17, but the storm struggled to find direction over the next few days. Part of the reason for the slowing motion was due to the remnants of Ivan, which was now in the Atlantic Ocean moving south.  That blocking ridge caused Jeanne to make a full loop near the Bahamas.  The storm gained strength during this time, and became a hurricane again Sept. 20.

Jeanne started on a westerly track again Sept. 22.  At first it appeared that Florida might be spared.  But each subsequent advisory over the next 24 hours placed the track of Jeanne further west.  Finally, during the late afternoon hours of Friday, Sept. 24, hurricane warnings were posted for many of the same areas which had been impacted by Frances three weeks earlier.  South Florida was told to prepare yet again.

Jeanne picked up strength Sept. 25. Winds increased to 115 mph making it another major hurricane.  Jeanne made landfall shortly after midnight Sept. 26.  It worked its way toward the Orlando and Tampa areas before turning north toward Gainesville on its way to Georgia. 

Jeanne killed three people in Florida, and one additional person in South Carolina.  However, in Haiti, the loss of life was more severe as an estimated 3,000 people died.  The damage estimate from Jeanne was $7.6 billion, putting it as the 11th costliest storm in American history.

Response from the Army Corps

Multiple districts were charged with responding to the hurricanes in 2004.  Jacksonville District took the lead on the response to Charley and Ivan, while Mobile District had the lead in responding to Frances and Jeanne.  Missions included temporary roofing (“Blue Roof” Program), temporary housing, power, ice and water. The Temporary Roofing program alone helped more than 115,000 homeowners with damaged roofs. 

The Corps also mobilized its Deployable Tactical Operations Systems (DTOS) and stood up Emergency Response and Recovery Offices (ERROs).  The DTOS provides a capability for mobile command/control platforms and communications in support of initial emergency response missions. The ERROs were established to manage and execute FEMA recovery missions assigned to the Corps under authority granted in the Stafford Act.  For the 2004 storms, ERROs were staffed well into 2005 as the Corps worked the missions it was assigned. 

The lessons from 2004 were immediate for Jacksonville District. After Charley struck, district leaders noticed it was taking considerable time to gather signatures on right-of-entry forms necessary to allow contractors to install temporary roofing materials.  As a result, the district dedicated a team of people to focus on collecting right-of-entry forms.  In 2005, when Hurricane Wilma struck Florida, the quick response in getting right-of-entry forms resulted in temporary roofing materials being installed the day following the storm, saving homeowners untold thousands in additional property damage. The right-of-entry team has now been among the first responders on the ground following a major storm event, a practice that continues to this day.