Prior to Hurricane Charley, Hurricane Andrew was the modern-day hurricane that everyone talked about.
It was 9 years ago when we were tracking with nervous anticipation Hurricane Charley. A few days earlier, Tropical Storm Bonnie was in the Central Gulf aimed for the Panhandle of Florida. The concern, we knew, was going to be the next one, which, at the time, was Tropical Depression 3 in the Caribbean.
On August 11, 2004 Charley was upgraded to a hurricane with 75 mph wind just south of Jamaica. At this point it was now moving to the WNW. An early season trough in the Eastern United States was going to cause Charley to turn north and then northeast somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico. The challenge….exactly when and where that turn will occur.
Early in the morning on the 13th of August, 2004, Hurricane Charley emerged from the north coast of Western Cuba as a strong category two storm with winds of 105 mph.
At this point it was moving just a hair west of due north and the trend was more in line with an earlier turn to the northeast. Evidence of this became clear around 7 a.m. on the 13th when our original radar, Pinpoint Doppler 9000, clearly showed the eye of Charley west of Key West and already moving due north. This was very important as there was nothing that would cause Charley to wobble back westward of its current position. Therefore, we knew that Tampa Bay was about the farthest possible north along Florida’s West Coast that Charley would hit.
At about 8:30-9:00 a.m. that morning, our meteorologists Mike Clay and Alan Winfield began to say Charley had to hit south of Sarasota. By noon, it was obvious the Fort Myers area up to Charlotte Harbor were in the direct path.
Charley was a very small hurricane and began to rapidly intensify. By the early afternoon, recon data indicated that Charley was already a cat 4 with maximum sustained winds of 145 mph. At this point, it was just to the SW of Captiva. Tampa Bay was completely in the clear at this point.
Charley’s official landfall was on La Costa Island with 145 mph wind. Charley then moved over Captiva and into Charlotte Harbor. Because Charley was a small, fast moving storm and its movement through the Eastern Gulf was almost parallel to the Florida coastline, this Category 4 storm had a small storm surge for a storm of its caliber. An official gust of just under 130 mph was recorded in Punta Gorda.
Due to Charley’s fast movement, it made it into far inland locations still as a strong hurricane. When Charley reached Polk County around 7 p.m., winds were still 100 mph. Charley’s hurricane force winds extended about 20 miles, making this storm akin to a large tornado.
Tropical storm force winds did make it into extreme Eastern Manatee and Hillsborough counties. But, since Charley was so small, areas west of I-75 experienced almost no wind and rain.
Charley’s move through Polk County lasted about 90 minutes and by 9 p.m. was wreaking havoc on Orlando. An official gust at Orlando International Airport was 105 mph. Even as Charley exited the East Coast of Florida it still had winds near 90 mph. It only took Charley about 8 hours to move from Charlotte Harbor to Daytona. A weakened Charley made another landfall in South Carolina.
Despite its small size, Charley was the 6th costliest hurricane in US history with over $15 billion in damage. Fifteen people were killed 9 years ago due to Hurricane Charley.