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Remembering "Wrong Way" Hurricane Lenny

By By Kristina Pydynowski, senior meteorologist
November 21, 2012, 11:24:25 PM EST

While the tropics are currently quiet, Hurricane Lenny was tracking the "wrong way" through the Atlantic Basin on this date in 1999.

Lenny spent its entire lifespan (November 13-23) traveling in a west-to-east fashion from the central Caribbean to the Atlantic, which was unprecedented in the history of tropical record-keeping.

Tropical systems are typically guided westward from the Atlantic to the Caribbean by high pressure anchored over the Atlantic, then may curve to the northeast if they encounter a dip in the jet stream over or emerging from North America.

In Lenny's case, a large dip in the jet stream was in place over the western Atlantic and put the hurricane on its eastward track and on a collision course with the northern Leeward Islands.

Lenny reached its peak intensity on November 17 as it slammed into St. Croix of the U.S. Virgin Islands with maximum sustained winds of 155 mph. Lenny was not only a powerful Category 4 hurricane at that time, but also became the strongest November hurricane on record.


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Hurricane Paloma from 2008 ranks second on that list with maximum sustained winds of nearly 145 mph.

Lenny was responsible for the deaths of 17 people, while its slow movement led to extremely high rainfall totals.

One observation site (Gendarmerie) on St. Martin reported 34.12 inches of rain--the hurricane's highest rain total. That amount includes a 24-hour record of 18.98 inches that poured down on November 18.

After the 1999 Atlantic hurricane season, the name "Lenny" was officially retired and replaced with "Lee."


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