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Irene's Similarities to Bertha, Bob, Hugo, Fran and Floyd

By By Heather Buchman, Meteorologist
August 30, 2011, 6:44:47 AM EDT

We can warn residents about how strong Hurricane Irene is expected to be, where it will make landfall and what the impacts will be, but sometimes it's easier for people to relate to past hurricanes to get a better idea of what to expect.

There are a few hurricanes of the past, such as Bob, Fran, Hugo and Floyd, that are comparable to what we expect of Irene. However, one of the most similar, in terms of track, is Hurricane Bertha in 1996.

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Hurricane Bertha in 1996 Bertha first formed over the central Atlantic in early July 1996 and became a Category 1 hurricane upon approaching the Leeward Islands. The hurricane caused millions of dollars in damage as it moved through the British and U.S. Virgin Islands and north of Puerto Rico.

Thereafter, Bertha continued on a northwesterly track, passing east of the Bahamas and ultimately making landfall as a strong Category 2 hurricane in North Carolina between Wrightsville and Topsail Beach.

Winds were estimated around 100 mph at landfall. The storm surge was 5 to 6 feet.

The storm continued tracking north-northeastward along the East coast of the U.S., unleashing 45- to 60-mph winds and flooding rain along the way from northern North Carolina to New England.

The National Hurricane Center reports that 12 deaths were attributed to Bertha. The storm caused an estimated $135 million in insured property damage, mostly along the North Carolina coast, according to the American Insurance Association. Total damage has been estimated at $270 million.

Federal disaster areas were declared in the U.S. Virgin Islands and North Carolina. Approximately 750,000 people were evacuated from the Carolinas, according to FEMA.

Similarities and Differences Between Bertha and Irene While Bertha formed farther out over the central Atlantic than Irene, both storms took a track through the Leeward Islands and skirted the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico at hurricane strength.


Irene is currently tracking farther west than Bertha, plowing right through the Bahamas. The center of Bertha, on the other hand, stayed just east of the Bahamas.

Irene is forecast to be a stronger storm than Bertha. Bertha reached Category 3 hurricane strength for only a brief period of time to the east of the southern Bahamas. Irene is forecast to strengthen as it continues blasting through the Bahamas, attaining Category 4 strength and remaining a major hurricane as it barrels toward the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Irene's expected landfall in the Outer Banks would be farther east than Bertha's. Since it could be a stronger storm than Bertha, Irene's impacts may be more severe.

North of North Carolina, Irene is predicted to continue tracking farther east than Bertha did, moving right along or just offshore of the mid-Atlantic and potentially making a second landfall as a Category 1 hurricane over Long Island and third landfall over Connecticut.

Other Hurricanes of the Past that are Similar to Irene:

Hurricane Bob in 1991 Bob was the last hurricane to make landfall in New England. It tracked very close to the Outer Banks of North Carolina as a strong Category 2 hurricane, though the eye did not move onshore.

From there, Bob briefly strengthened into a Category 3 hurricane, then weakened to a Category 2 storm before making landfall twice in Rhode Island, first on Block and second in Newport. Bob also made another landfall as a strong tropical storm in Maine.

Creating an estimated $1.5 billion (1991 USD) in damage, Hurricane Bob was one of the costliest hurricanes in New England's history, according to Wikipedia. The hurricane claimed an estimated 17 lives.

Overall, Irene's track is expected to be farther west than Bob's along the East Coast of the U.S. While Bob stayed offshore of the Carolinas, Irene is predicted to make landfall in the Outer Banks.

Irene's track is also expected to be farther west than Bob's farther north with a predicted landfall over Long Island and again over Connecticut.

As far as intensity goes, Irene is a stronger hurricane than Bob, already attaining Category 3 strength over the Bahamas. Irene is forecast to become a Category 4 hurricane today.

While Irene will weaken after passing by North Carolina and as it approaches New England, it is still expected to hit as a strong Category 1 or even a Category 2 hurricane.


Away from the U.S., Irene and Bob are very much different hurricanes. Irene first formed over the central Atlantic, east of the Leeward Islands, while Bob formed much closer to home, east of the northern Bahamas.

Irene has caused damage and flooding across the Leeward Islands, Puerto Rico, U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Hispaniola and Turks and Caicos and is about to have a major impact on the Bahamas. Bob's impacts were overwhelmingly limited to the United States.

Hurricane Fran 1996 As AccuWeather.com Senior Meteorologist Kristina Pydynowski pointed out, Fran from 1996 was the last hurricane to strike the Carolinas with Category 3 strength (the threshold for a major hurricane).

Fran barreled onshore with maximum sustained winds of 115 mph in the vicinity of Cape Fear, N.C., a location that could lie in the direct path of Hurricane Irene this weekend.

Though Irene is similar to Fran in terms of strength and a landfall over North Carolina, the rest of Fran's track across the Atlantic Basin was quite different from Irene. Fran formed just off the coast of Africa and tracked well north of the Leeward Islands, Puerto Rico and Hispaniola and east of the Bahamas, unlike Irene.

Fran also took a much different path inland over the U.S., tracking northwestward through the Virginias and Ohio. Irene is expected to move along or parallel to the coast of the mid-Atlantic and Northeast.


Hurricane Floyd 1999 Hurricane Floyd took a path across the Atlantic that battered the northern Bahamas and brought the storm inland over Cape Fear, N.C., as a Category 2 storm.

At its strongest, Floyd was a Category 4 hurricane as it passed north of the southern Bahamas and plowed into several islands of the northern Bahamas.

Floyd caused an estimated $4.5 billion in damage and was blamed for 57 fatalities.


Hurricane Hugo in 1989 Hugo is another disastrous hurricane that took a path through the Leeward Islands, grazed Puerto Rico and ultimately made landfall in the Carolinas.

The hurricane struck Isle of Palms, S.C., as a powerful Category 4 storm with winds of 140 mph. Hugo claimed 27 lives in South Carolina, left nearly 100,000 people homeless and caused $10 billion in damage.

Hugo's landfall point was well south of where Irene is expected to blast onshore. Hugo also tracked well inland over the U.S., whereas Irene is predicted to stay closer to the coast of the mid-Atlantic and Northeast after landfall.

AccuWeather.com's own Jesse Ferrell was living in North Carolina when Hugo hit and has an excellent recount of what he experienced in words and pictures.


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