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Hurricane Elena was an Atlantic hurricane that produced heavy damage along the Gulf Coast of the United Statesmarker in August and September of the 1985 Atlantic hurricane season. The fifth tropical storm, fourth hurricane, and first major hurricane of the season, Elena developed near Cubamarker from a tropical wave. It quickly strengthened, reaching peak winds of 125 mph (205 km/h) after stalling in the northeastern Gulf of Mexicomarker. Elena turned to the west-northwest, and ultimately made landfall near Biloxi, Mississippimarker, as a Category 3 hurricane. The storm quickly dissipated over land.

Elena's unusual path through the Gulf of Mexico, which included a loop, prompted many to evacuate from the coastline. Due to its powerful winds, Elena caused $2.7 billion in damage (2005 USD), primarily in property damage. The hurricane caused extensive beach erosion in Floridamarker, while powerful waves damaged the oyster crop. Hurricane Elena was responsible for no direct deaths, though four people were indirectly killed due to the storm.

Meteorological history

The precursor to Hurricane Elena was a tropical wave that moved off the coast of Africa on August 23. It remained weak due to its fast westward motion and Saharan Air Layer around the circulation. As it moved through the Greater Antilles, it slowed somewhat, and a tropical depression formed on August 28 between Cubamarker and Haitimarker. It paralleled the northern cost of Cuba, and became Tropical Storm Elena that night. Conditions were favorable for additional development in the Gulf of Mexico, and Elena became a hurricane on the 29th.

A frontal trough of low pressure turned Elena to the northeast, but when the trough outran the storm, steering currents collapsed, leaving behind a stalled, strengthening hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. It posed a threat to the west coast of Floridamarker, but after the crowds returned to the Mississippimarker and Florida panhandle coasts, it slowly looped back to the northwest and was changed to a north Gulf Coast threat, prompting another evacuation of the Mississippi Coast. Elena reached its peak of on September 1, south of Apalachicola, Floridamarker while moving back to the west-northwest due to steering by a building high pressure area to its northeast.

Elena imaged near its peak intensity.
Elena weakened steadily to a hurricane before making landfall near Biloxi, Mississippimarker on September 2. The hurricane weakened rapidly over land, becoming a tropical depression on September 3 with its surface circulation dissipating across Missourimarker. Its mid-level circulation spurred thunderstorm development as it turned eastward, dissipating by September 6 over Kentuckymarker.

Impact

Though a powerful and damaging storm, it was Elena's unpredictable movement that forced over one-half million people to evacuate from Florida to Louisiana, the largest evacuation order at the time. Because of the evacuation, there were no direct deaths from the storm. The hurricane caused a total of $1.25 billion (1985 USD) in damage, mainly in the form of property damage and beach erosion.

Florida

Elena's Storm Total Rainfall.


From the Florida Panhandle through Sarasota, Floridamarker, many people were evacuated from low-lying coastal areas. Rainfall totals along the western Florida peninsular coastline ranged from in Key Westmarker to a maximum of two miles west-northwest of Cross Citymarker. While Elena stalled off the coast, the hurricane's outer bands produced several tornadoes across the western part of the state, severely damaging some motor parks northeast of Tampa Baymarker. A few injuries were reported, some serious, but there were no deaths across the state.

Apalachicolamarker on the Florida Panhandle received a storm surge, the maximum storm surge from the hurricane. In addition, the city reported of precipitation, among the highest from the hurricane. The oyster industry in the town suffered greatly from the storm, with the hurricane destroying nearly all of the $6.5 million oyster crop. Apalachicola Bay provides for around 10% of United Statesmarker oysters, and hopes were ruined for a quick recovery when Hurricane Kate destroyed much of what Elena didn't ruin. In addition, 3 days of rough seas eroded away of beaches and caused significant coastal flooding. The amount of time to replenish the beaches was estimated at 10 years.

Northern Gulf Coast

While Elena was moving northward for the first time, Hurricane Warnings were issued from Morgan City, Louisianamarker through the Florida Panhandle, prompting hundreds of thousands to evacuate. When Elena looped and turned to the west, warnings were issued again, and many were forced to evacuate two times in three days.

Tides ranged from three to six feet above normal, though rainfall was relatively minimal along the coastline. Near the ocean, the maximum rainfall amount was in Pearl River Locks, Louisianamarker, though much greater amounts were recorded further inland, including in Clinton, Arkansasmarker. At least a dozen tornadoes were reported in coastal areas of Mississippimarker, though damage was limited and localized.

The city of Pass Christian, Mississippimarker, near where Elena made landfall, received a negative storm surge from the hurricanes extended northerly winds. Because of this, there was little flooding damage. Extensive wind damage effected 75% to 80% of homes in the town, resulting in widespread debris and property damage amounting to $2.9 million (1985 USD) in the small town of 6,500.

In all, Elena only caused four deaths, all indirectly related to the hurricane due to automobile accidents, falling from trees, or heart attacks. The hurricane's strong winds, combined with torrential flooding, resulted in a damage toll of about $1.25 billion (1985 dollars). At the time, it was among the costliest Atlantic hurricanes.

Retirement

The name Elena was retired in the spring of 1986 and will never be again used for an Atlantic hurricane. Up until then, Elena was the only Atlantic storm name that has been retired without causing any direct casualties, although Hurricane Paloma of 2008 would follow.

Elena was replaced with Erika in the 1991 season.

See also



References

  1. National Hurricane Center. Preliminary Report: Hurricane Elena 29 August-4 September. Page 1. Retrieved on 2008-04-06.
  2. National Hurricane Center. Preliminary Report: Hurricane Elena 29 August-4 September. Page 2. Retrieved on 2008-04-06.
  3. David M. Roth. Hurricane Elena Rainfall Page. Retrieved on 2008-04-06.
  4. National Hurricane Center. Preliminary Report: Hurricane Elena 29 August-4 September. Page 3. Retrieved on 2008-04-06.
  5. Eric S. Blake, Edward N. Rappaport, and Chris Landsea. The Dealiest, Costliest, and Most Intense United States Tropical Cyclones From 1851 to 2006 (and other frequently requested hurricane facts). Retrieved on 2008-03-19.
  6. David M. Roth. Hurricane Elena Rainfall Page. Retrieved on 2008-04-06.
  7. Robert A. Case. Atlantic Hurricane Season of 1985. Retrieved on 2008-04-06.
  8. Susan DeFord. One-Two Punch of Kate and Elena Have Beaches on the Ropes. Retrieved on 2008-04-06.
  9. National Hurricane Center. Preliminary Report: Hurricane Elena 29 August-4 September. Page 4. Retrieved on 2008-04-06.
  10. Eric S. Blake, Edward N. Rappaport, and Chris Landsea. The Dealiest, Costliest, and Most Intense United States Tropical Cyclones From 1851 to 2006 (and other frequently requested hurricane facts). Retrieved on 2008-03-19.
  11. National Hurricane Center. Retired Hurricane Names 1954-2005. Retrieved on 2008-04-06.


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