Greensburg Tornado – Kansas – May 4, 2007

This devastating Greensburg tornado was an F5 tornado, rarely seen, and not previously experienced in Kansas for decades. This tornado was four miles wide at touch down and it devastated 95 percent of Greenburg.

The first EF-5 tornado in the United States since 1999 destroyed the town of Greensburg in southwest Kansas May 4, 2007, as part of a major, weekend outbreak of severe weather and flooding in the Central Plains, according to NOAA National Weather Service reports. Greensburg was evacuated after the tornado, and the town remains closed except to residents and emergency workers. A spokesman for the Kansas Department of Transportation office in Pratt said routing U.S. Highway 54 traffic around Greensburg is likely to continue for a week. The detour totals about eighty-five miles. The National Weather Service confirmed that the twister that hit Greensburg on Friday at about 9:45 P.M. was an F5, the highest on the scale. With winds of 205 mph, it stayed on the ground about an hour, traveling for twenty-two miles and wreaking a path of destruction nearly two miles wide. Ninety-five percent of the town was wiped out.

NOAA forecasters in Dodge City were able to issue a Tornado Warning thirty-nine minutes before the 1.7-mile-wide wedge tornado hit the town. Noting intensification in radar images and a bearing directly toward Greensburg, Dodge City weather staff updated with a Tornado Emergency message 10–12 minutes before the twister hit. NOAA confirmed that the twister was an EF5 with wind speeds of about 205 mph. A broad area of low pressure moving slowly from the west encountered a warm front extending from western Nebraska into the Oklahoma and Texas Panhandles. Fed by copious amounts of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, the collision spawned an active period of severe weather. Since Friday, May 4, the NOAA Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., received 136 tornado reports, 109 reports of high winds and 429 reports of large hail, mostly concentrated on the plains.

Greensburg, like much of Kansas, is familiar with severe tornadoes but it has been many years since anything approaching the severity of the 2007 tornado occurred. Perhaps it is because of the state’s history that it was selected as the imaginary setting for the famous Judy Garland movie “The Wizard of Oz.” Greensburg is located in the southwest part of the state and about fifty miles north of the Oklahoma border. It is a town of about 1500 people and, for such a place, the loss of nine lives from this tornado was a severe blow. Two additional deaths occurred nearby. The Federal government immediately declared Greensburg a disaster scene, meaning that there would be federal financial assistance for the stricken town. President Bush visited the scene within a few days of the event.

NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, is celebrating two hundred years of science and service to the nation. From the establishment of the Survey of the Coast in 1807 by Thomas Jefferson to the formation of the Weather Bureau and the Commission of Fish and Fisheries in the 1870s, much of America’s scientific heritage is rooted in NOAA. NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through predicting and conducting research into weather and climate- related events, providing and delivering an information service for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of the nation’s coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than sixty countries and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.


Tiananmen Square Massacre – China – June 4, 1989

Thousands were killed and thousands of others wounded.

Tiananmen Square, meaning “Gate of Heavenly Peace” refers to a cluster of ancient buildings plus a massive square in the heart of Beijing. The former is a museum dealing with events from China’s past, the latter is an important site ever since 1949 when communist revolutionaries became the government of China. Official celebrations and national day rallies are held here. For some time, in the months leading up to June 4, 1989, large numbers of students had been protesting corruption in government circles and authoritarian responses to their complaints. These protests kept increasing in intensity and finally the government ordered its army to crush the protesters. Thousands were killed and thousands more were injured in the military action that followed on June 4.

When Hong Kong was transferred from Britain to China in 1997 the celebrations for the event were held in Tiananmen Square. Protests also occurred in the square and the reason that the 1989 protest was so well internationally publicized on television relates to the fact that President Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union was visiting China at that time. Cameras from many countries were in place for Gorbachev’s visit and they switched to the massacre in the square when it happened. The student protests that developed in the summer of 1989 began as mourning ceremonies for Hu Yaobang, a senior member of the Communist government, who died suddenly in April of 1989. Before his death he was disgraced and removed from office because he was a long-time friend of students supporting them in their demands for political reform. Thousands gathered around the residences of top Chinese officials near Beijing’s Forbidden City to talk about democracy with Prime Minister Li Peng. They wanted to know why Hu Yaobang had been disgraced and dismissed from office.

The numbers grew when they learned that some of the students who were protesting had been arrested. Students took up temporary residence on Tiananmen Square and pressed their requests, including asking high-ranking officials to publish lists of their personal property. In support of their demands, students from Beijing University, the most prestigious in China, organized a strike. Half of the student body boycotted classes and students from other universities joined them. Together, aided by workers from other walks of life, 80,000 people marched to the square where they presented a seven-point demand to the government. It included the rehabilitation of Hu, press freedom, and more money for education. These students were not opposed to their communist form of government, they just wanted their leaders and the party as a whole to live up to their own ideals.

When the memorial service for Hu Yaobang was held in the Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square, students won their first victory. They were permitted to remain in the square during the memorial service. About 200,000 came to pay their respects to Hu but, at the end, Li Ping refused to meet with the students to discuss their concerns. Instead he issued a statement criticizing the student movement for reckless behavior and for inciting strikes. The student response to Li Ping was a carefully organized march of students from Beijing University and forty other universities together with people from the community, as many as half a million in all. They went to the square and held up a large copy of the country’s constitution with a focus on the guarantee of the right of demonstration. The protest activities continued for some days, aided by three hundred journalists who had been demanding greater freedom of the press. Sympathy protests were held at other universities across the country. On May 13, 1989, several hundred students began a hunger strike in the square.

The influence of the protests expanded greatly on May 14. Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was about to arrive and the students planned to welcome him because of the political reforms he instituted in the Soviet Union. This was to be the first Sino-Soviet summit conference in thirty years. For China, however, the visit became a huge embarrassment. Gorbachev was far too popular with the students. Furthermore, the official procession could not come through Tiananmen Square, the traditional route for all such occasions. The Russian delegation therefore had to come through a back street where no welcoming crowd could see them.

The tense situation was by now the main topic of conversation at the top levels of government. Some wanted to deal sympathetically with the students and give consideration to their demands. Zhao Ziyang, the Communist Party secretary and a well-known reformist was the foremost proponent of this approach. Li Ping was on the opposite side. Students were naive, convinced that the army would never shoot Chinese citizens. There were divisions in the army too. Some units were unwilling to open fire on the protestors so the government officers issued statements saying that the army was there to protect people, not harm them. They added that guns would only be used as a last resort. All of these things heightened tension.

The only person who could settle the dispute among government leaders was Deng Xiaoping, the leader who had transformed China’s economy by adopting western ideas. Although retired, his opinion still carried more weight than any other. His decision, on June 3, 1989, was to bring in the troops and clear the square within twelve hours. The square by this time was full of students and a ten-meter-high goddess of democracy statue had recently been added to their demonstration. Troops began to make their way into the center of Beijing, encountering taunting and public opposition. Students had erected road blocks all around the square.

In the early morning of June 4, the crack of rifle fire and the occasional thud-thud of heavy machine guns told everyone what had happened. There was no warning. As the gunfire came nearer, the crowd became frantic and started to push several buses across the road to block the path against any incoming troops. There were clear signs of the terror to come. Behind the Great Hall of the People in the square 1,000 troops stood, for a moment surrounded by a jeering crowd. Suddenly, eight hundred riot police stormed out of the compound where government leaders lived, firing tear gas and laying about them with clubs.

They were supported by a large contingent of troops accompanied by trucks, tanks, and armored personnel carriers that poured into the square from the east side. The road was soon littered with broken glass and bricks, partly the result of student action against the soldiers, partly due to the destructive activity of the troops. More and more wounded were being taken to the nearest hospital. In the eyes of an onlooker, one of the hospitals looked like a war zone of dead and broken bodies. There were some on benches and beds or on blood-soaked mattresses on the floor, and many had bullet wounds on chest, legs, or head. Students had been bayoneted to death. Students in tents were crushed to death by oncoming tanks. The shock among students was palpable. Again and again voices cried out in words like the following: How could the Communist Party do this? How could they shoot children? Many could not find words to express their horror. Next day the world knew what had happened. It had been documented on film. The Chinese Red Cross estimated that close to 3,000 had been killed.


Loma Prieta Earthquake – California – October 18, 1989

Damage was extensive and large as twenty-five miles of the San Andreas Fault slipped.

On October 18, 1989, an earthquake of magnitude 6.9 struck a branch fault of the San Andreas near the city of Santa Cruz in the southern Santa Cruz Mountains. It came to be known as the Loma Prieta earthquake after the name of a 3,000-foot mountain in the Santa Cruz area that was close to the epicenter. A series of thousands of destructive landslides was triggered all along a stretch of coast and in the central valley from north of San Francisco to points forty-five miles south of Santa Cruz. This earthquake took sixty-three lives, cost $10 billion, and damaged 27,000 structures. The source of the quake was a slip along a twenty-five-mile segment of the San Andreas Fault where it crosses the Santa Cruz Mountains sixty miles south of San Francisco. It was the most powerful earthquake to strike this part of California since the 1906 San Francisco quake.

Extensive studies were made in the wake of this quake to ensure adequate preparation for any future similar event. For the most part, places that were damaged by landslides were checked out and where necessary, as in some coastal locations, homes were removed or other remedial action taken. One particularly weak area was the Marina District of San Francisco. Despite the experience of 1906 when this part suffered severe damage, city officials went on to fill the area with sand and rubble from the quake, in order to use it as a site for the 1912 Panama–Pacific International Exhibition. In later years it became a very popular section of the city. The lurking danger, which was ignored, was liquefaction in the event of an earthquake. When Loma Prieta struck, the Marina area immediately sunk five inches. This was followed by widespread liquefaction as water saturated sand turned into a liquid. Buildings shifted off their foundations and many collapsed.

Thousands of landslides generated by the quake were found all over an area half the size of the one hit in 1906. Loma Prieta thus provided the first opportunity to study the effects of a major earthquake on landslides. Previous landslide-producing earthquakes, apart from the 1906 quake, were either too small or too poorly documented for this purpose. Techniques for identifying slopes susceptible to failure that had been developed over the previous ten years were proved correct in the studies that followed the Loma Prieta earthquake. At the same time there was recognition of new types of landslide hazards not fully appreciated in the past. The most severe property damage occurred in San Francisco and Oakland. The earthquake was felt over most of central California and in part of western Nevada.

It was fortunate that the epicenter was in a sparsely populated area because the amount of shaking was very strong. In homes furniture was moved several feet and in one case a built-in oven was ejected from its cabinet. The city of Watsonville was badly damaged as were older buildings in downtown Santa Cruz. Around the margins of San Francisco Bay the shaking that was experienced in 1906 was much stronger than in 1989. Most publicity was focused on the collapse of a section of the freeway that connects downtown Oakland to the Bay Bridge. The freeway’s bridge was built in 1936 and was intended to withstand moderate earthquakes. Such designs were common at that time before people were acquainted with the damaging influence of earthquake motions.


Persian Gulf Oil Inferno – March 1, 1991

This new form of terrorism brought a wave of toxic gases over Kuwait and its surrounding area. At the same time, large areas of ocean life in the Gulf were destroyed.

At the beginning of August 1990, Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait in order to gain control of its oilfields and make it a province of Iraq. The United Nations immediately condemned this action and, when diplomatic efforts to solve the crisis failed, a coalition of many countries was assembled to reclaim Kuwait by force. Air attacks on Iraq were launched early in January of 1991 and later ground forces crossed into Kuwait. The ground war was brief and by the end of February 1991 Iraqi military units had been completely defeated. There were many Iraqi deaths, perhaps as many as 100,000. Among the armies of the coalition between two and three hundred were killed.

This might have been the end of the story but Iraq decided to launch a series of environmental acts of terrorism as it withdrew from Kuwait. A flood of oil was released into the Gulf destroying most forms of life there. At the same time, hundreds of oil wells were set on fire within Kuwait, creating a massive blanket of air pollution. From the air the fires from the oil wells made the country look like a huge black blanket through which oil flares shot upward from time to time. It was a double terrorist catastrophe with great implications for the future of the surrounding environment, comparable in its destructiveness to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and greater in its extent than any other oil spill in history.

Animals and people alike were having trouble breathing. There was a stinging unpleasant smell everywhere that irritated lungs, clothing, and skin. On the ground there were pools of oil that caught fire occasionally as some nearby flame reached them. Trees, buildings, cars, anything on the land surface, all were covered with tar. Specialists in fire control were brought in at an early stage from all over the world. So challenging did the task seem to them that their first estimate for getting rid of all the fires was five years. Logistical problems faced them on every hand. The airport was not accessible so they had to wait for the smoke and fires around it to be cleared before they could bring in personnel and materials.

During their short period of occupation, the Iraqis had stripped the country of everything movable. Roads had to be created from fire site to fire site because the soldiers had cut defensive trenches across highways. In addition, the retreating army had left stores of ammunition and discarded vehicles everywhere. Minefields had to be cleared but no one knew where they were. Frequently the fire crews used huge bulldozers to pile up heaps of sand to fill in the trenches. At the same time they were able to use these mountains of sand to absorb the impact of exploding mines and thus get rid of them.

The scale of destruction by the Iraqis was so great that every innovative method possible was welcomed. Every day, about 15 percent of the world’s consumption of oil was going up in smoke or forming rivers of oil. That amounted to six million barrels, roughly the quantity consumed daily by all the gas-powered vehicles in the United States. This went on for almost two months before the first fires were extinguished. Two months supply of oil is often the amount of emergency reserves stored in western countries. Furthermore, Kuwait was not the only casualty of Iraqi’s environmental terrorism. All the surrounding countries, covering an area twice that of the area of Alaska, were smothered with poisonous black air, creating all kinds of health problems.

Most of Kuwait’s oil wells are operated by underground pressure. There is no need for the kind of surface derricks so common in North America where oil has to be pumped up. Each Kuwaiti well is, therefore, a small inconspicuous structure carrying the usual “Christmas tree” of control pipes and surrounded by a chain-link fence. Where Iraqi damage was minimal, it was possible to stop the fire just by using an ordinary wrench. These opportunities were few. For the most part explosives had been used to destroy the control equipment. A critical part of the controls was the blow out preventer, a valve that adjusts pressure to cope with sudden increases from below. The loss of this control as fires were being extinguished led to sudden ignition in a few places, killing workers. Five men lost their lives in this way.

For the bigger fires a remote-operated crane was used to place a huge wide-diameter pipe over the well. Water and dry chemicals were then poured into the pipe to smother the flames. Both the heat and the noise made it impossible to talk to one another when close to the well so hand signals were used. Large supplies of liquid nitrogen happened to be on hand in Saudi Arabia and this was found to be an excellent chemical for putting out a fire. Its minus 320 degrees Fahrenheit temperature was an ideal cooling agent. Where flames shot out of a well horizontally as well as vertically it was too dangerous to use the wide-diameter pipes. Explosives became the only answer. They quickly put out the flames and, though they caused additional damage, they made it possible to reach the well and rebuild it.

As each team from the various countries coped with one fire after another the effect on the work as a whole was quite dramatic. Visibility gradually opened up. Teams could see better what was going on and were able to tackle those that seemed to be doing most damage. Instead of the original five-year prospect, the end of their work began to look more like one year. The final landscape looked like the moon. Swamps were everywhere, mainly filled with a mixture of oil and mud, and the ground had become saturated into a thick black mass. It would be a long time before any plants took root in that kind of soil. The end came in November of 1991. The last well was put out eight months after the first foray.

The other half of the environmental catastrophe, the oil flooding into the Gulf, was receiving the same intensive attention as the flaming oil wells and over the same period of time. For some places there was nothing that could be done. Salt marshes, mangrove plants, and coral habitats of rare turtles were destroyed. Estimates of seabird deaths reached 30,000. Fishing is a major industry all along the shores of the Gulf. After oil it is the main source of income for thousands of people on both sides of the Gulf. All their fish stocks, including shrimp, barracuda, and mackerel were wiped out.

Forty times the amount of oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez in Alaska was released into the Gulf, adding to an earlier spill. In the 1980s, when Iraq and Iran were at war, Iraqi missiles hit offshore Iranian platforms and spilled two million barrels of oil into the ocean. Now, a decade later, the new flood of oil was being attacked with booms and skimmers, recovering one million barrels of oil from the ocean’s surface. That was a record for any spill and it was urged on by the unique demands of Saudi Arabia’s desalination plants.

Three of these plants are on the Gulf side of the country and they provide 40 percent of the nation’s drinking water. It was the top priority of the government of Saudi Arabia to prevent any oil reaching the intake pipes of these installations. One plant alone produces 220 million gallons of fresh water a day, meeting three-quarters of the water needed by the country’s capital, Riyadh. That same installation is also the source of water for a range of industrial enterprises in and around Riyadh. All the intake sites to these desalination plants were immediately surrounded with several lengths of boom as soon as news of the oil flood reached Riyadh. The booms were arranged in an inverted “V” formation to deflect oil away from the plants and to minimize the risk of oil splashing over the booms.

The final cost of all the cleanups was more than twelve billion dollars, including the value of lost oil, but unlike other spills there was little prospect of collecting these costs from the people responsible. Any national leader who could do what Iraqi’s president did in and around the Gulf Region is beyond all rules of law. Several international conventions exist for dealing with the Kuwaiti catastrophe. They extend from the Hague Convention of 1907, condemning warring nations for environmental destruction, to similar agreements in 1949 and 1977. Economic sanctions against Iraq were the only possible response by the international community in relation to these conventions and agreements, and they were imposed at once. Ten years later they were still in place with little likelihood of being lifted.


Mount Pinatubo Volcanic Eruption – Philippines – June 15, 1991

This was the second largest volcanic eruption worldwide in the twentieth century. The biggest was Mount Katmai in Alaska in 1912.

On June 15, 1991, and persisting for eight hours, the second largest volcanic eruption of the twentieth century, that of Mount Pinatubo, took place on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. The largest eruption was Katmai in Alaska in 1912. Pinatubo is only fifty-five miles from the capital city, Manila. As many as eight hundred people were killed and 100,000 became homeless following the eruption. Millions of tons of sulfur dioxide were discharged into the atmosphere, causing a decrease in the surface temperature of the entire globe over the next few years.

Mount Pinatubo is part of a chain of volcanoes along the Luzon arc on the west coast of the main island of the Philippines, Luzon, created by subduction action of tectonic plates similar to the way the volcanic mountains of Cascadia develop, such as Mount St. Helens. The events of the 1991 eruption began back in July 1990, when a magnitude 7.8 earthquake occurred sixty-two miles northeast of the Pinatubo region, a result of the reawakening of Mount Pinatubo. In mid-March 1991, villagers around Mount Pinatubo began feeling earthquakes and volcanologists began to study the mountain. About 30,000 people lived in villages on the flanks of the volcano prior to the disaster. On April 2, 1991, small explosions from the mountain led to eruptions of ash that was deposited on local villages. The first evacuations of 5,000 people were ordered later that month.

Before the catastrophic eruption of 1991, Pinatubo was not a dominant landmark, unknown to most people in the surrounding areas. Its summit was 5,725 feet above sea level, but only about 1,800 feet above nearby plains, and only about six hundred feet higher than surrounding peaks, which largely obscured it from view. An indigenous people, the Aeta, had lived on its slopes and in surrounding areas for several centuries, having fled the lowlands to escape persecution by the Spanish. They were a hunter-gatherer people who were extremely successful in surviving in the dense jungles of the area. The dense jungle that covered most of the mountain and surrounding peaks supported the hunter-gathering Aeta, while on the surrounding low-lying areas the abundant rainfall provided by the monsoon climate and the fertile volcanic soils provided excellent conditions for agriculture. Many people grew rice and other staple foods. Many of the Aeta who lived on the slopes of the volcano left their villages of their own volition when the first explosions began in April, gathering in a village about eight miles from the summit. They moved to increasingly distant villages as the eruptions escalated, some moving as much as nine times in the two months preceding the eruption.

Earthquakes and explosions continued to occur. On June 5, a level 3 alert was issued for two weeks due to the possibility of a major eruption. The extrusion of a lava dome on June 7, led to the issuance of a level 5 alert on June 9, indicating an eruption in progress. An evacuation area twelve miles away from the volcano was established and 25,000 people were evacuated. On June 10, Clark Air Base, a U.S. military installation near the volcano, was evacuated. The 18,000 personnel and their families were transported to Subic Bay Naval Station and most were returned to the United States. On June 12, the danger radius was extended to eighteen miles from the volcano and this involved increasing the total numbers evacuated to 58,000. Unfortunately, at the time of the eruption, Tropical Storm Yunya was passing forty-seven miles to the northeast of Mount Pinatubo, causing a large amount of rainfall in the region. The ash that was ejected from the volcano mixed with the water vapor in the air to cause deposits of rock and ash to fall across the whole of the island of Luzon. Many of the eight hundred people who died during the eruption were killed by the weight of the ash collapsing roofs and killing occupants. Had Tropical Storm Yunya not been nearby, the death toll from the volcano would have been much lower.

The volcano had experienced major eruptions in the past, the last being about five hundred years ago. Pinatubo stood about 5,725 feet above sea level before the June 1991 eruption. On June 15, the climactic eruption of Mount Pinatubo began in the early afternoon and lasted for nine hours, causing numerous earthquakes due to the collapse of the summit of Mount Pinatubo and the creation of a caldera. The caldera reduced the peak from 5,725 feet to 4,872 feet. In addition to the ash, Mount Pinatubo ejected between fifteen and thirty million tons of sulfur dioxide gas. Sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere mixes with water and oxygen in the atmosphere to become sulfuric acid, which in turn triggers ozone depletion. Over 90 percent of the material released from the volcano was ejected during the nine-hour eruption of June 15. The human impacts of the disaster are staggering. In addition to the up to eight hundred people who lost their lives, there was almost one half of a billion dollars in property and economic damage. The economy of central Luzon was completely disrupted, the volcano having destroyed 4,979 homes and damaged another 70,257. One year after the eruption thousands of additional homes were destroyed and 3,137 were damaged, usually as a result of rain-induced torrents of volcanic debris.

The eruption plume of Mount Pinatubo’s various gasses and ash reached high into the atmosphere within two hours of the eruption, reaching an altitude of twenty-one miles and covering an area 250 miles wide. This eruption was the largest disturbance of the stratosphere since the eruption of Krakatau in 1883. It had a Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI) of 6, making it equivalent to some of the most violent eruptions in all of human history. Mount Vesuvius, Krakatau, and Thera of ancient Greece all had VEI of 6. The aerosol cloud spread around the earth in two weeks and covered the planet within a year. During 1992 and 1993, as a result of this aerosol cloud, the ozone hole over Antarctica reached an unprecedented size, creating a heightened risk of skin cancer all over the world. The cloud over the earth reduced global temperatures. In 1992 and 1993, the average temperature in the Northern Hemisphere was greatly reduced and the entire planet experienced its minimum temperature in August 1992.

Overall, the cooling effects of Mount Pinatubo’s eruption were greater than those of the El Nino climatic event that coincided with the aftermath of the eruption. Pinatubo’s cooling effects were also much greater in the years 1992 and 1993 than the increases that were accumulating due to human actions via greenhouse gases. The United States military never returned to Clark Air Base. The damaged base was turned over to the Philippine government on November 26, 1991. In all, the eruption ejected about two and a half cubic miles of material into the atmosphere. Damage to health care facilities, and the spread of illnesses in relocation facilities, led to soaring death rates in the months following the eruption. Education for thousands of children was seriously disrupted by the destruction of schools in the eruption.


Hurricane Andrew – August 24, 1992

The peak gusts of 164 mph led to huge destruction of homes in the built-up area of southern Florida. Total damage costs were $26.5 billion.

Hurricane Andrew was the most destructive twentieth century U.S. hurricane. It reached Florida as a category 4 storm where it made landfall at Homestead at 5 A.M. on August 24 with a peak gust of 164 mph. It caused twenty-three deaths in the United States, three more in the Bahamas, and ended up with a damage total of $26.5 billion, of which $1 billion occurred in Louisiana. The vast majority of the damage in Florida was due to the winds.

This most destructive hurricane started modestly as a tropical wave that emerged from the west coast of Africa on August 14. The wave spawned a tropical depression on August 16, which became Tropical Storm Andrew the next day. Further development was slow, as the west-northwestward moving Andrew encountered an unfavorable upper-level trough. Indeed, the storm almost dissipated on August 20 due to vertical wind shear. By August 21, Andrew was midway between Bermuda and Puerto Rico and turning westward into a more favorable environment. Rapid strengthening occurred, with Andrew reaching hurricane strength on August 22 and category 4 status on August 24 when it made landfall in Florida.

Florida is no stranger to hurricanes and throughout the twentieth century, again and again, the frequency and strength of the storms that arrived led to the waxing and waning of its attractiveness to northerners who wanted to enjoy its warmer temperatures. In the forty years from 1926 to 1966, Miami was hit with hurricanes about thirteen times but from the quarter century 1966 to 1992 there were none and during that period of time people flocked to Miami, doubling its population. New subdivisions sprung up but supervision of building codes and other regulations was lax. There were fewer than twenty building inspectors for a population of one million. The sudden arrival of Andrew was a great shock. Its fierce winds caused most of the damage. Houses were torn apart, cars lifted off the streets, and trees uprooted. Boarding up their windows proved useless as a protection in the face of the wind and very few homes had basements where people could shelter. It was an almost total destruction of whole subdivisions.

Reports from private barometers helped establish that Andrew’s central pressure at landfall in Homestead, Florida, was 27.23 inches, which makes it the third most intense hurricane of record to hit the United States. Andrew’s peak winds in south Florida were not directly measured due to the official measuring instruments having been destroyed. A storm surge of seventeen feet was recorded at Homestead. Thereafter the hurricane continued westward into the Gulf of Mexico where it gradually turned northward. This motion brought Andrew to the central Louisiana coast on August 26 as a category 3 hurricane where the storm surge of eight feet inundated much of the Louisiana coast. It also triggered a killer tornado in southeastern Louisiana. The storm then turned northeastward, eventually merging with a frontal system over the mid-Atlantic on August 28.

In all, 63,000 of the residences in Dale County, where Miami is located, were destroyed and another 110,000 damaged. Nine out of every ten mobile homes were also destroyed. Hospitals, fire stations, and other emergency stations had been put out of action by the storm and relief was slow to arrive from other places because there were no telephones or other communications to contact them. Andrew remained the most devastating natural disaster in U.S. history until the arrival of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The name Andrew was retired in the spring of 1993 and will never again be used for an Atlantic hurricane. It was replaced with Alex in the 1998 season.