Ten years ago today, Hurricane Charley made landfall on the southwest Florida coast as a Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Charley was the strongest hurricane to strike the United States since Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Although Charley was a small hurricane in size, it caused catastrophic damage in Charlotte County, Florida.
Charley intensified rapidly as it approached the southwest coast of Florida with the hurricane’s peak intensity estimated at 150 mph occurring at the first U.S. landfall in Cayo Costa, FL at 3:45 pm on August 12. An hour later the eye was over Punta Gorda and winds still at Category 4 strength.
At 5:00 pm EDT on the day before the Florida landfall, Charley was a Category 2 hurricane centered to the south of western Cuba. The forecast from the National Hurricane Center called for Charley to strengthen to a Major Hurricane (Category 3) before striking the Florida coast. The track showed the center making landfall in the vicinity of Tampa, although the accompanying track cone covered the lower Florida Keys as well as a large section of the Florida west coast.
Some people overly focused on the exact forecast track without taking the uncertainty of the forecast into account. You have probably heard me say “Don’t focus on the skinny black line.” The reason the cone was created was to help visualize the uncertainty.
Note that the cone covered the actual landfall area and that Hurricane warnings were in effect nearly 24 hours before landfall and included the most impacted areas. In the case of Charley that was coming in at an oblique angle to the coastline, a change in the direction of motion of less than ten degrees made the difference between a landfall near Tampa and the actual landfall near Cayo Costa.
The direct death toll due to Charley stands at 15 (ten in the United States). An additional 25 U.S. deaths, 24 in Florida and 1 in South Carolina, were indirectly caused by Charley. These indirect deaths occurred primarily during the recovery period. Nearly all of these types of indirect deaths could be prevented in the future with a little education and common sense.