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You are here: GES DISC Home Hurricanes Additional Features Science Focus HURRICANE CHARLEY AUGUST 9 - 15 2004


Hurricane Charley track diagram Figure 1.        Best Track analysis of Hurricane Charley from 9-15 August.1


Storm Status

Wind Speed

Green=Tropical Depression

<39 mph

Yellow=Tropical Storm

39-73 mph

Light Red=Category 1-2 Hurricane

74-110 mph

Dark Red=Category 3-5 Hurricane




Charley was the second named storm to form during the month of August, and the second hurricane to develop in less than a week in the tropical Atlantic.  Hurricane Charley affected the island of Jamaica for over 24 hours with hurricane force winds, before moving onto the Grand Cayman Islands and Cuba on 11 August, where he caused significant damage to homes and crops.  In Cuba, four deaths have been directly linked to Charley and likewise, one in Jamaica.    

Two items made Charley a unique hurricane.  The first is what occurred just prior to landfall in Florida: During the four to six hours prior to landfall in Florida, Charley began to intensify at an astonishingly rapid rate between in the afternoon of 13 August, before slamming into Central Florida near Charlotte Harbor just a few hours later as a powerful Category 4 hurricane.  Hurricane Charley caused catastrophic damage in a southwest to northeast swath through the center of the state before exiting into the Atlantic Ocean on 14 August 2(See figure 1).

What is interesting to note, however, is the fact that overall ocean thermodynamic profiles were not all that conducive for explosive intensification.  In fact, ocean heat content values were relatively low for the region and time of year, ranging from 30-40 KJ cm^2 (Kilojoules) near the western Florida coastline.  Typically, values greater than 100 KJ cm^2 are needed for the kind of rapid intensification seen in hurricane Charley3.

The second unique feature of Charley was the fact that Charley was the strongest Hurricane to hit the American coastline since Hurricane Andrew back in 19922.  Charley officially made landfall as a 145 mph Category 4 Hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. 


Storm History

Charley had his beginnings like most other August Hurricanes, which develop from strong tropical waves that slide off the West coast of Africa near the Cape Verde Islands.  Between 4 and 8 August, the tropical wave maintained a steady westward movement towards the Lesser Antilles, and at 145 PM EDT (1745Z), became Tropical Depression Three near the Windward Islands of Trinidad and Margarita4.

After passing through the Lesser Antilles and entering the Caribbean Sea, Tropical Depression Three had organized sufficiently to be named the third Tropical Storm of the 2004 Atlantic Hurricane Season.  The overall environment ahead of Tropical Storm Charley became very favorable for further intensification, and while nearing the Island of Jamaica, Charley strengthened into a 75 mph hurricane5.    

Damage was reportedly light in Jamaica and the Grand Cayman Islands—the highest recorded sustained wind speeds on Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac were 21 kts (25 mph) and 35 kts (40 mph) respectively2.  Charley severely impacted Cuba, however, with sustained winds upwards of 100 kts (115 mph) and gusts nearing 130 kts (150 mph) after landfall.  The high winds drove water inland, and this combined with the torrential rainfall, flooded low-lying regions of the south coast of Cuba near the Province of La Habana.  Over 70,000 homes were severely damaged, and thousands of acres of crops were destroyed by the inland flooding and high winds6

After passing over Cuba, Charley began a change of course, and headed northeastward towards Florida.  During his final approach to Florida, Charley underwent an incredible deepening phase rarely seen in an Atlantic hurricane.  Estimates from the National Hurricane Center are that Charley’s central pressure dropped at a rate of 5.02 mb/hr around the time of landfall, just before it reached maximum intensity of 130 kts (150 mph) in Cayo Costa, Florida2

The most intense winds were confined to a very small area, less than 10 mi on either side of the center of the hurricane.  It is interesting to note how far inland Charley was able to bring hurricane force winds, with a swath of 80+ mph winds nosing all the way into Orlando.

Charley made two more landfalls after emerging off the east coast of Florida: one near Cape Romain, SC, and the other near North Myrtle Beach, SC.  Charley maintained hurricane status during both landfalls, but lost tropical characteristics a short while later off the Delmarva coastline.   


Charley RGB
MODIS Aqua RGB using the MOD02HKM product. This image is of the swath data from Aug 12 at 1905 hrs. More images like this and parameters animation created from other datasets can be seen in our Archive Image Gallery for hurricane Charley .





1. Image courtesy of the NOAA coastal Services Center  Http://

2. Blake, Eric; Daniel Brown; Pasch, Richard. “Tropical Cyclone Report: Hurricane Charley.” 5 January 2005. (17 July 2006).

3. Jaimes, Benjamin. “Influence of Loop Current ocean heat content on hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma.” RSMAS/MPO. 2006. (20 July 2006).

4. Pasch, Richard. “Tropical Depression Three Special Discussion Number 1.” 9 August 2004. (19 July 2006).

5. Pasch, Richard. “Hurricane Charley Intermediate Advisory Number 9A.” 11 August 2004. (19 July 2006).

6. International Federation of Red Cross And Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). “Cuba: Hurricane Charley Appeal No. 20/04 Final Report.” 8 September 2004. (19 July 2006).

7. National Weather Service Tampa Bay, FL. “Hurricane Charley Experimental Wind Swath.” (19 July 2006).

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Last updated: May 27, 2010 04:35 PM ET