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Eye of Nicole crucial to limited damage

The eye of Hurricane Nicole could have helped prevent the island from a repeat of Hurricane Fabian, according to the deputy director of the Bermuda Weather Service.

While the two storms may appear similar on paper — both made direct hits on the island as Category 3 hurricanes — the impact of Hurricane Fabian brought notably stronger winds and caused more significant damage.

Asked about the difference between the storms, James Dodgson said one of the significant factors was that the island received a brief respite from the winds in the middle of Nicole.

“What happened in Fabian was the eye passed just to the west of the island,” he explained. “What that meant was, particularly in the eastern part of the island, we never got a break from the very strong winds in the eye wall. That was a significant difference.

“In Nicole, the eye was over us for about an hour and a half, so there was a brief period of relief and people had the opportunity to shore things up. If it had passed a bit more to the west we would have had no respite.”

He also explained that while Fabian hit the island as a “solid” Category 3, Nicole was weakening as it passed over the island.

“Nicole was weakening from a Category 4 to a Category 2 as it moved over Bermuda and away to the northeast,” he said. “Things could have been very different if it had gone into that intensification period [to a category 4, as it did to our south] as it went across the island.”

Mr Dodgson noted that the strength of a storm is determined by the strongest sustained winds recorded, suggesting that Bermuda may have missed the worst that Nicole had to offer.

“When the hurricane hunters fly their reconnaissance missions through the tropical system, they get very detailed readings,” he said.

“The figure quoted by the National Hurricane Centre is the maximum wind they find, usually in the eye wall of the hurricane. That may cover a very small area within the whole hurricane, but they nevertheless quote that maximum figure.

“As a system comes across Bermuda, even as a Category 3, we might not observe the quoted figure because it's such a small area that it may miss the island. It's not as if the whole hurricane has winds that speed.”

He also noted several other factors, including that Fabian was considered to be a more turbulent storm, forming a greater number of tornadoes.

“Based on historical reports, Fabian was a much more turbulent storm with embedded tornadoes,” he said. “We did see some signs on the radar during Nicole of potential tornadic activity, but we haven't received any definitive reports as yet.”

In addition, the surge was likely worse in Fabian because the maximum surge time coincided with high tide.

Another element which could explain the difference in damage caused by the storms was that unlike Nicole, Fabian came during “somewhat of a hurricane drought”.

“We appear to have been very much in the firing line for hurricanes central for during the last few years,” he said. “In October 2014 we had Fay and Gonzalo that cleared a lot of wood. Last year we had Joaquin and earlier this season we had Karl, although that came as a tropical storm.”

Mr Dodgson added: “Over the last few years people may have perceived a shift in the height of hurricane season from September to October. The peak month is indeed September, but October is the second peak, with more activity on average than even August.

“The kick-up in activity later in the summer has a lot to do with the upper-level winds and steering currents. Also, the sea temperature keeps on warming right on into September, and that's fuel for hurricanes. Until the seas start to go down in temperature, which isn't really until October-time, there remains plenty of fuel for a bona fide hurricane. Hurricanes in October are by no means unprecedented.”

He also added that the weakening of the Bermuda-Azores high/ridge late in the summer “opens the door” for hurricanes to approach.

A satellite image of Hurricane Nicole as she gathered in the vicinity of Bermuda (Photograph by Nasa Goddard/Modis Rapid Response Team)

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Published October 19, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated October 19, 2016 at 11:38 am)

Eye of Nicole crucial to limited damage

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