Category One Hurricane Strikes an Unusual Target in the Atlantic

  • Islands known as the birthplace of storms wrestled with one
  • High winds, heavy rains can bring much damage to the islands

Something rare happened out in the Atlantic-- a hurricane hit Cape Verde.

The islands off the coast of Africa lend their name to some of the most powerful storms the Atlantic produces, yet they themselves rarely get hit.

Hurricane Fred is first to hit in more than a century
Hurricane Fred is first to hit in more than a century

According to the official Atlantic tropical cyclone record, which begins in 1851, Hurricane Fred is the first hurricane to pass through the Cape Verde Islands since 1892. 

“Fred is unusual,” said Dennis Feltgen, spokesman for the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. He cautions that the database is less reliable prior to the satellite era: the mid-1960s onward.

Fred grew to a Category 1 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, with winds of 85 miles per hour, as it bore down on the island nation Monday and has now passed them by. This was probably Fred’s peak, as it has now weakened to a tropical storm about 195 miles northwest of the island chain, according to the hurricane center.

It became a tropical storm and got its name Sunday, making it only the fourth to form east of 19 degrees west latitude. That’s pretty far east. The meridian passes through Iceland and is just off the African coast.

Development Point

Cape Verde, or the Republic of Cabo Verde, is a series of islands that have a collective land area a little larger than Rhode Island and a population of 546,000 people, according to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook.

In most hurricane seasons it is known as the point where the main development region starts -- a patch of ocean that goes west from the islands to the edge of the Caribbean.

This is where some of the worst tropical systems in history have been born, and collectively they are often referred to as Cape Verde hurricanes. They also tend to be among the longest-lived hurricanes, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Hurricanes Hugo (1989) and Ike (2008) came out of this area, as did the 1928 Okeechobee Hurricane that killed at least 1,886 people, according to the hurricane center.

Fred was born from a large storm that had been brewing over Africa for the past week, said Dan Kottlowski, a meteorologist with AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania.

When it got over the warm Atlantic waters off the coast of Africa it took off. There is very little wind shear, which can tear at a storm’s structure, and the dry air that has been holding back other storms this year was too far away, he said.

“It was a fascinating thing to watch,” Kottlowski said. “Everything just kind of clicked for this thing to get together.”

The Cape Verde islands are steep, rocky and volcanic in origin, according to the CIA. The highest point is Mt. Fogo at 9,281 feet (2,829 meters).

High winds have been reported across the islands. The hurricane center said rains there should start to taper off now that Fred is rolling out to sea.

Drawing larger conclusions out of Fred’s existence will be tough, said Jeff Masters, co-founder of Weather Underground in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

“The Fred situation may just be one of those things that happens once every 100 years or so,” Masters said.

Fred won’t have much of a future, said Kottlowski. It will break up over the Atlantic and its remains may be swept up by another storm later in the week.

This other system isn’t supposed to be a full-fledged tropical system, it may just be a big powerful Atlantic storm the type that the ocean is known for. various forecast models are producing different predictions for this system, so it is something that needs to be watched.

“That is why I am saying if, if, if,” Kottlowski said.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE