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2003 Atlantic hurricane season

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2003 Atlantic hurricane season
Season summary map
First storm formed April 20, 2003
Last storm dissipated December 11, 2003
Strongest storm Isabel – 915 mbar ( hPa) (27.03 inHg), 165 mph (270 km/h)
Total depressions 21
Total storms 16
Hurricanes 7
Major hurricanes ( Cat. 3+) 3
Total fatalities 92 total
Total damage $4.4 billion (2003 USD)
Atlantic hurricane seasons
2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005

The 2003 Atlantic hurricane season was an active Atlantic hurricane season with tropical activity before and after the official bounds of the season – the first such occurrence in 50 years. The season produced 21 tropical cyclones, of which 16 developed into named storms; seven cyclones attained hurricane status, of which three reached major hurricane status. With sixteen storms, the season was tied for the sixth most active Atlantic hurricane season on record. The strongest hurricane of the season was Hurricane Isabel, which reached Category 5 status on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale northeast of the Lesser Antilles; Isabel later struck North Carolina as a Category 2 hurricane, causing $3.6 billion in damage (2003 USD, $4.04 billion 2007 USD) and a total of 51 deaths across the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States.

The season began with Subtropical Storm Ana on April 20, prior to the official start of the season; the bounds of the season are from June 1 to November 30, which conventionally delimit the period of each year when most tropical cyclones form in the Atlantic basin. In early September, Hurricane Fabian struck Bermuda as a Category 3 hurricane, where it was the worst hurricane since 1926; on the island it caused four deaths and $300 million in damage (2003 USD, $336 million 2007 USD). Hurricane Juan caused considerable destruction to Nova Scotia, particularly Halifax, as a Category 2 hurricane, the first hurricane of significant strength to hit the province since 1893. Additionally, hurricanes Claudette and Erika struck Texas and Tamaulipas, respectively, as a minimal hurricane.

Seasonal forecasts

Predictions of tropical activity in the 2003 season
Source Date Tropical
Hurricanes Major
CSU Average (1950–2000) 9.6 5.9 2.3
NOAA Average 11 6 2
NOAA 19 May 2003 11–15 6–9 2–4
CSU April 4 2003 12 8 3
CSU May 30 2003 14 8 3
CSU 6 August 2003 14 8 3
Actual activity 16 7 3

Pre-season outlook

On May 19, prior to the start of the season, NOAA forecasters issued a 55% probability of above normal activity. The forecasters predicted 11–15 tropical storms, 6–9 of those becoming hurricanes, and 2–4 of those hurricanes reaching at least Category 3 strength on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. The above normal activity predicted was due to the likelihood of La Niña developing in the season.

Noted hurricane expert Dr. William M. Gray on April 4 predicted twelve named storms, with eight reaching hurricane strength and three of the eight reaching Category 3 strength. The prediction issued on May 30 was similar, increasing the named storms to fourteen. The synoptic pattern of the season prior to June 1 resembled other previous seasons, with the 1952, 1954, 1964, 1966, and 1998 seasons considered the best analogs for the season. The prediction also included a 68% probability for a hurricane landfall along the United States.

Mid-season outlook

On August 6, Dr. Gray announced he had maintained his previous prediction; with an active start of the season, the rest of the season was forecasted to have been only slightly above average, due to an anticipated overall less favorable environment across the Atlantic Ocean. A day later, NOAA released an updated prediction as well, with a 60% probability of above normal activity, with 12–15 named storms, 7–9 hurricanes, and 3–4 major hurricanes expected.

A normal season, as defined by NOAA, has 6–14 tropical storms, 4–8 of which reach hurricane strength, and 1–3 of those reaching Category 3 strength.


April through July

Pre-season Tropical Storm Ana on April 22

The official beginning of the season was on June 1, 2003, though Subtropical Storm Ana formed on April 20, well before the start to the season. When Ana transitioned into a tropical cyclone the next day, it became the first Atlantic tropical storm on record in the month of April. The storm caused two deaths in Florida from increased waves and rip currents.

Starting in the season, the National Hurricane Centre began issuing five–day forecasts, extending from the three–day forecasts issued since 1964. Officials conducted tests during the previous two seasons, indicating the new five–day forecasts would be as accurate as the three–day forecasts were 15 years earlier. The tropics were active and well ahead of climatology in the early portion of the season, with the seventh tropical depression forming by the end of July.

Within the first week of the official start of the season, a tropical wave moved off the coast of Africa, and on June 11 developed into Tropical Depression Two; unfavorable conditions prevailed, and it dissipated within 24 hours of developing.

By the end of June, the third tropical depression of the season developed near the Yucatán Peninsula; it tracked northward, strengthening into Tropical Storm Bill before striking the southern Louisiana coast on June 30. The storm caused moderate rainfall and a tornado outbreak across the southern United States, resulting in four deaths and $30 million in damage (2003 USD, $35 million 2007 USD).

Claudette at Texas landfall

On July 8, a well organized tropical wave in the Caribbean Sea organized into Tropical Storm Claudette. Its intensity fluctuated while crossing the basin, attaining hurricane status before weakening and striking the Yucatán Peninsula as a tropical storm. Claudette re-intensified to hurricane status and struck southeastern Texas on July 15, causing a total of three deaths, one of which directly, and $180 million in damage (2003 USD, $200 million 2007 USD).

Hurricane Danny formed on July 16 from a tropical wave well to the east of Bermuda. It strengthened while tracking around an anticyclone, and attained hurricane status further north than any other Atlantic tropical cyclone in July. It turned to the east and dissipated without affecting land.

Tropical Depression Six developed on July 19 in the tropical Atlantic Ocean, and was initially forecasted to attain hurricane status. However, it tracked quickly westward, and degenerated into an open tropical wave on July 21 near the Lesser Antilles.

The tropical wave that spawned the previous tropical depression developed an area of convection further to the north, which organized into Tropical Depression Seven on July 25 off the coast of Florida. It failed to develop, and made landfall on Georgia as a tropical depression before dissipating on July 27.


Hurricane Fabian near Bermuda

After a short respite in activity, a westward-moving tropical disturbance organized near Florida and developed into Tropical Storm Erika in the Gulf of Mexico on August 14. It continued quickly across the body of water, and made landfall in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas as a hurricane on August 17. The hurricane caused two deaths from floodwater drowning in Mexico, as well as minor damage in southern Texas.

Tropical Depression Nine formed on August 21 in the eastern Caribbean Sea from a tropical wave. Despite predictions of it intensifying to a strong tropical storm, it failed to strengthen due to strong wind shear, and on August 22 the depression dissipated.

Hurricane Fabian developed from a tropical wave on August 27 in the tropical Atlantic Ocean. Tracking west-northwestward around the subtropical ridge, it encountered favorable conditions, and steadily intensified to reach peak winds of 145 mph (230 km/h) on September 1. Fabian turned to the north and gradually weakened, passing just west of Bermuda on September 5 as a major hurricane. On September 8, it became an extratropical cyclone after causing four deaths and $300 million (2003 USD, $336 million 2007 USD) in damage on Bermuda; there, it was considered the worst hurricane in nearly 80 years. Elsewhere, rough waves from the hurricane killed a surfer in North Carolina and three fishermen off Newfoundland.

A tropical disturbance organized into Tropical Storm Grace in the Gulf of Mexico on August 30; with a nearby upper-level low causing unfavorable wind shear, the storm failed to organize significantly, and it moved ashore along Texas. The storm dropped moderate rainfall across much of the southern United States.


Henri, Fabian, and Isabel on September 7

Tropical Storm Henri formed in the Gulf of Mexico on September 3, and it crossed central Florida without causing significant damage or flooding. On September 8 it degenerated into a remnant low pressure area, which dropped heavy rainfall in the Mid-Atlantic States. Flooding from the storm's remnants caused about $19.6 million in damage (2003 USD, $22 million 2007 USD), which was compounded by the effects of Hurricane Isabel a week later.

A tropical wave spawned Hurricane Isabel on September 6 in the tropical Atlantic Ocean. Encountering favorable conditions, it gradually intensified while tracking generally west-northwestward, and on September 11 Isabel attained peak winds of 165 mph (270 km/h), the strongest storm of the season. After fluctuating in intensity for the subsequent four days, it weakened and struck North Carolina as a Category 2 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale. Across the East Coast of the United States, Isabel caused a total of 51 fatalities and $3.6 billion in damage (2003 USD, $4.04 billion 2007 USD).

Brief Tropical Depression Fourteen formed on September 8 just off the coast of Africa. An upper-level low hindered its development and changed its motion to the north-northwest, and on September 10 the depression dissipated after passing near the Cape Verde islands.

On September 24 a tropical depression developed southeast of Bermuda, and while tracking northward it quickly intensified to become Hurricane Juan. Juan maintained its strength as it accelerated northward, and on September 29 it struck Halifax, Nova Scotia with winds of 100 mph (160 km/h). The hurricane caused a total of 8 fatalities, as well as $150 million in damage (2003 USD, $170 million 2007 USD). It was considered one of the worst hurricanes on modern record in Halifax.

A tropical wave spawned a tropical depression on September 25, which tracked northwestward before turning to the northeast and becoming Hurricane Kate. The hurricane then turned sharply westward, reaching major hurricane status before turning northward and becoming extratropical on October 7. It did not have a significant effect on land.

October through December

Tropical Storm Peter near peak intensity

An extratropical storm formed in the Bay of Campeche on September 30, and remaining nearly stationary it transitioned into Tropical Storm Larry by October 1. The storm drifted southward, reaching peak winds of 65 mph (100 mph) before moving ashore along the Mexican state of Tabasco. Larry caused five deaths in Mexico, as well as heavy rainfall and mudslides.

On October 10, a tropical disturbance organized into Tropical Storm Mindy just off the northeast coast of the Dominican Republic. After moving northwestward, it turned sharply eastward and dissipated on October 14, after earlier dropping light to moderate rainfall across the Greater Antilles.

Tropical Storm Nicholas developed from a tropical wave on October 13 in the tropical Atlantic Ocean. The storm strengthened to near-hurricane intensity before weakening while turning northward and later to the northwest. On October 24, Nicholas transitioned into an extratropical low, which, after executing an anticyclonic loop, meandered erratically before being absorbed by a non-tropical low to the southwest of Bermuda on November 1.

Early in November, the system that absorbed Nicholas tracked westward across the Atlantic Ocean, nearly developing into a subtropical cyclone before crossing Florida and dissipating on November 5. The season officially ended on November 30, 2003, although Tropical Storm Odette formed on December 4 to the northwest of Colombia from a tropical disturbance; it became the second December tropical storm on record to form in the Caribbean Sea, after a hurricane in 1822.

The final storm of the season, Tropical Storm Peter, formed on December 7 in the eastern Atlantic Ocean. It strengthened to near hurricane status, but rapidly weakened due to increased wind shear and dissipated on December 11.

Impact and records

Flooding from Hurricane Isabel

No cyclones in the season had a significant impact on South America or Central America. However, a total of eight tropical cyclones made landfall on Mexico from either the Atlantic or the Pacific Ocean, which was the greatest total since the record of nine in 1971. A total of seven deaths occurred in Mexico from Atlantic hurricanes. Much of the Caribbean failed to receive significant impact from tropical cyclones during the season. However, Tropical Storm Odette caused eight direct deaths, as well as two indirect deaths, when it crossed the Dominican Republic in December. The storm damaged or destroyed over 1,000 homes, and heavy damage was reported to the banana crop.

Six tropical cyclones made landfall along the coast of the United States during the season, including two hurricanes. The first, Claudette, caused locally heavy damage in southeastern Texas in July; two deaths were reported in the state, while earlier in its duration it caused an indirect death from rough waves in Florida. In September, Hurricane Isabel caused deaths and damage from North Carolina through southern Canada. The worst damage from the hurricane occurred in Virginia, where it was the costliest disaster in the history of the state; there, damage totaled $1.85 billion (2003 USD, $2.08 billion 2007 USD), and there were 32 fatalities, ten of which caused directly by the hurricane. Hurricane Isabel caused deaths in seven states and one Canadian province, and about 6 million people were left without power as a result of the storm.

Damage from Hurricane Fabian

Several cyclones impacted Bermuda during the season, most significantly Hurricane Fabian. On the island, its passage proved to be the costliest and resulted in the first death since a hurricane in 1926. The hurricane killed four on the island when its strong waves and storm surge washed two cars off the causeway between St. George's Parish and St. David's Island. Damage from the hurricane totaled $300 million (2003 USD, $336 million 2007 USD). Elsewhere, Hurricane Juan was considered among the most damaging in the history of Halifax, Nova Scotia, where strong winds downed thousands of trees and left low-lying areas flooded from a record storm surge to the city. The hurricane caused a total of eight deaths and damage estimated at $200 million (2003  CAD, $150 million 2003 USD, $170 million 2007 USD).

The season is one of only four with a storm before and after the official bounds of the season; the others are 1887, 1953, and 2007. When Tropical Storm Peter formed on December 7, the season became the second on record with two December storms. The season was tied for the sixth most active on record, behind the 2005, 1933, 1995, 1887, and 1969 seasons, and tied with the 1936 season.

Season impact

2003 Atlantic hurricane statistics
Dates active Storm category

at peak intensity



( mbar)
Landfall(s) Damage
Where When Wind


Ana April 20– April 24 Tropical storm 60 994 none
Two June 11– June 12 Tropical depression 35 1008 none
Bill 28 June– 2 July Tropical storm 60 997 Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana June 30 60 50.5 
Claudette July 8– 17 July Category 1 hurricane 90 979 Puerto Morelos, Quintana Roo 11 July 50 181 1 (2) 
Matagorda Island, Texas 15 July 90
Danny July 16– 21 July Category 1 hurricane 75 1000 none
Six July 19– 21 July Tropical depression 35 1010 none
Seven July 25– 27 July Tropical depression 35 1016 St. Catherines Island, Georgia 26 July 30
Erika August 14– August 17 Category 1 hurricane 75 986 Northeastern Tamaulipas 16 August 75 .01+ 2
Nine August 21– 22 August Tropical depression 35 1007 none 0.02 
Fabian August 27– 8 September Category 4 hurricane 145 939 Bermuda (direct hit, no landfall) 5 September 115 300 8
Grace August 30– 2 September Tropical storm 40 1007 Galveston Island, Texas 31 August 40 .1 
Henri September 3– 8 September Tropical storm 60 997 Clearwater, Florida 6 September 35 20.6 
Isabel September 6– 19 September Category 5 hurricane 165 915 Drum Inlet, North Carolina 18 September 105 3600  16 (34)
Fourteen September 8– 10 September Tropical depression 35 1007 none
Juan September 24– 29 September Category 2 hurricane 105 969 near Halifax, Nova Scotia 29 September 100 150  4 (4) 
Kate 25 September– 7 October Category 3 hurricane 130 952 none 0 0
Larry October 1– 6 October Tropical storm 65 993 near Paraíso, Tabasco 5 October 60 53.6 
Mindy October 10– 14 October Tropical storm 45 1002 none .05 
Nicholas October 13– 23 October Tropical storm 70 990 none
Odette December 4– 7 December Tropical storm 65 993 Southern Dominican Republic December 6 60 8 (2) 
Peter December 7– 11 December Tropical storm 70 990 none
Season Aggregates
21 cyclones April 21– December 11   165 915 12 landfalls 4400 48 (44)

Storm names

The following names were used for named storms that formed in the north Atlantic in 2003. The names not retired from this list will be used again in the 2009 season. This is the same list used for the 1997 season. Storms were named Larry, Mindy, Nicholas, Odette, and Peter for the first time in 2003. Names that were not assigned are marked in gray.

  • Ana
  • Bill
  • Claudette
  • Danny
  • Erika
  • Fabian
  • Grace
  • Henri
  • Isabel
  • Juan
  • Kate
  • Larry
  • Mindy
  • Nicholas
  • Odette
  • Peter
  • Rose (unused)
  • Sam (unused)
  • Teresa (unused)
  • Victor (unused)
  • Wanda (unused)


The World Meteorological Organization retired three names in the spring of 2004: Fabian, Isabel, and Juan. They will be replaced in the 2009 season by Fred, Ida, and Joaquin respectively.

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