Hurricane Gonzalo passing by Bermuda on Friday evening
Hamilton, Bermuda (24th Oct 2014): For the first time since 2003, Bermuda has been struck by hurricane strength winds not once but twice in the last fortnight. Yet remarkably over this period the mid-Atlantic British Overseas Territory has managed to lay on not just this week’s Argo Group Gold Cup, but last week hosted the world’s top golfers at the PGA Grand Slam.
Being on the track of north Atlantic hurricanes means that the islanders have had to adapt over the years and for example a stringent set of building regulations help minimise the inevitable carnage when 100+ mph winds strike.
Thanks to efforts of the National Hurricane Centre in the USA, hurricanes are not only tracked but great effort goes into projecting their track. After devastating several Caribbean islands, it was known several days in advance that Tropical Storm Fay and last Friday’s Hurricane Gonzalo were likely to strike Bermuda, so anticipating Gonzalo the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club delayed the start of the Argo Group Gold Cup by a day.
Trees were uprooted by the effects of Hurricane Gonzalo
Once Gonzalo passed they held a meeting to assess their situation. “If we had 95% of the island without electricity, then we’d have had a problem,” admits event Chairman Brian Billings. In the event only half the island lost power, one damaged International One Design was replaced and the devastation at the airport was such that it was operational again within 24 hours. “After numerous phone calls, we said ‘yes, we’re on’,” says Billings.
Hurricane Gonzalo was vicious. Leaving the Caribbean it was rated as a Category 2 hurricane (83-95 knots) but hitting warm open water it built to a Cat 4 (113-136 knots) before downgrading marginally to a Cat 3 just before hitting Bermuda.
Argo Group Gold Cup Event Chairman Brian Billings
According to Billings, Gonzalo’s slow pace made it a ‘long storm’ with winds already up to storm force by 0700 local time on Friday and still honking by 1100 the next day. “In between my barograph took a very slow spin down and it went down to 27.5 [931mB] and then there was a little bit of a horizontal line and then she slowly came back up again…” This was in stark contrast to Hurricane Emily which came and went within just four hours.
Strangest was the eye of the hurricane, continues Billings: “It was huge – it took an hour to pass. It was flat calm, very eerie and very misty – it was kind of weird. Then all of a sudden – womp – the eye wall hit and it came in with a vengeance, like someone threw a bucket of iced water at you unexpectedly.”
Damages caused by Hurricane Gonzalo
When Gonzalo struck Billings says the most wind he saw was 130mph while he was at home, however this was at sea level and it was stronger on higher ground. Despite this the devastation caused was surprisingly slight. This was partly thanks to Tropical Storm Fay having swept through a week earlier with winds of 110+mph.
“When Fay hit we hadn’t had any major wind storm for quite a while, so the branches were heavy and we had a very wet August so there was a lot of foliage all over the place and the trees were all laden with flowers and buds, which added extra weight to them,” Billings continues. “So Fay took out of a lot of trees, and the clean up was longer than it was for Gonzalo - the roads were blocked for almost two days. Without that there could have been a lot more damage and the infrastructure could have suffered much more when Gonzalo hit.”
Damages caused by Hurricane Gonzalo
Through sheer luck, the timing of the two storms could not have been better. Fay hit leaving just enough time for the golf course at Port Royal to be cleaned up ready for the PGA Grand Slam, despite vast tree damage. “You wouldn’t have known it had happened - they got the course in great shape real fast,” says Billings. “Bermuda is very resilient and has a capability and the attitude to bounce back. People just jump in and help neighbours and we have our Bermuda regiment which helps.”
During hurricanes, usually as devastating as the wind is the storm surge, the massive volume of water blown along ahead of the system. However this did not affect Bermuda. Billings explains: “They were forecasting 35-45ft seas outside of the reef line on the South Shore, but there is the reef that slows it down, so we don’t get a storm surge from there. If it goes from the north then it can come into the Great Sound, then it comes into the Harbour and has no place to go. That happened during Emily.”
According to Billings hurricanes strike Bermuda once every 10 years. So having two in the space of a week means statistically they should be free of them for some years to come. Good news for the Argo Group Gold Cup in years to come hopefully.