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Hurricane David

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Hurricane David
Category 5 hurricane ( SSHS)
Hurricane David as a strong Category 4
Formed August 25, 1979
Dissipated September 8, 1979
Highest winds 1-minute sustained:
175 mph (280 km/h)
Lowest pressure 924 mbar ( hPa); 27.29 inHg
Fatalities 2,068+ direct
Damage $1.54 billion (1979 USD)
Areas affected Windward Islands, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Bahamas, Florida, Georgia, most of eastern North America
Part of the 1979 Atlantic hurricane season

Hurricane David was the fourth named tropical cyclone, second hurricane, and first major hurricane of the 1979 Atlantic hurricane season. A Category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, David was among the deadliest hurricanes in the latter half of the 20th century, killing over 2,000 people in its path, mostly in the Dominican Republic.

David was a Cape Verde-type hurricane, traversing through the Lesser Antilles, Greater Antilles, and East Coast of the United States during late August and early September. With winds of 175 mph (280 km/h), Hurricane David was the strongest hurricane to strike the Dominican Republic in recorded history, and the deadliest since the 1930 Dominican Republic Hurricane. Also, the hurricane was the strongest to hit Dominica in the 20th century, and was the deadliest Dominican tropical cyclone since a hurricane killed over 200 in September of the 1834 season. David was the second male name for a tropical storm in Atlantic history and the first to be retired.

Storm history

Storm path

A tropical wave that moved off the coast of Africa on August 22 developed into a tropical depression in the central Atlantic on August 25 about 800 miles (1,300 km) east of the Windward Islands. The strong subtropical ridge to the north forced the new depression westward, where favorable conditions allowed it to strengthen to a tropical storm on the 26th. David continued to strengthen, becoming a hurricane on the 27th. As it moved west-northwestward on the 27th and 28th, it rapidly intensified to a 150 mph (240 km/h) major hurricane. It weakened slightly to a 140 mph (225 km/h) hurricane, but restrengthened by the time David ravaged the tiny Leeward Island of Dominica on the 29th.

David continued west-northwest through the islands where it caused heavy damage, and became a Category 5 hurricane in the northeast Caribbean Sea, reaching peak intensity with maximum sustained winds of 175 mph (280 km/h) and minimum central pressure of 924 mbar (hPa) on August 30. An upper-level trough pulled David northward into Hispaniola as a Category 5 hurricane on the 31st. The eye passed almost directly over Santo Domingo, capital of the Dominican Republic with over a million people. The storm crossed over the island and emerged as a weak hurricane after drenching the islands.

David at Florida landfall

After crossing the Windward Passage, David struck eastern Cuba as a minimal hurricane on September 1. It weakened to a tropical storm over land, but quickly re-strengthened as it again reached open waters. David turned to the northwest along the western periphery of the subtropical ridge, and re-intensified to a 100 mph (160 km/h) Category 2 hurricane while over the Bahamas. Despite initial forecasts of a Miami, Florida landfall, the hurricane turned to the north-northwest just before landfall to strike near West Palm Beach, Florida on the 3rd. It paralleled the Florida coastline just inland until emerging into the western Atlantic Ocean at New Smyrna Beach, Florida later on the 3rd. David continued to the north-northwest, and made its final landfall just south of Savannah, Georgia as a minimal hurricane on the 5th. It turned to the northeast while weakening over land, and became extratropical on the 6th over New York. As an extratropical storm David continued to the northeast over New England and the Canadian Maritimes, and dissipated on September 8 to the northeast of Newfoundland.


David was originally expected to hit Barbados and spare Dominica in the process. However, even as it became increasingly clear that David was headed for the island, residents did not appear to take the situation seriously. This can be partly attributed to the fact that local radio warnings were minimal and disaster preparedness schemes were essentially non-existent. Furthermore, Dominica had not experienced a major hurricane since 1930, thus leading to complacency amongst much of the population. This proved to have disastrous consequences for the island nation.

Some 400,000 people evacuated in the United States in anticipation of David, including 300,000 in southeastern Florida due to a predicted landfall between the Florida Keys and Palm Beach. Of those, 78,000 fled to shelters, while others either stayed at a friend's house further inland or travelled northward. Making landfall during Labor Day weekend, David forced the cancellations of many activities in the greater Miami area.


Deaths from David
(totals may not match)
Region Deaths
Dominica 56
Puerto Rico 7
Dominican Republic 2,000+
United States 5
Total 2,068+

David is believed to have been responsible for 2,068 deaths, making it one of the deadliest hurricanes of the modern era. It caused torrential damage across its path, most of which occurred in the Dominican Republic where the hurricane made landfall as a Category 5 hurricane.


In the days prior to hitting Dominica, forecasters thought David would spare Dominica and hit Barbados instead. However, a turn in the hours before moving through the area caused the 150 mph (240 km/h) hurricane to make a direct hit on the southern part of Dominica. During the storm's onslaught, David dropped up to 10 inches (250 mm) of rain, causing numerous landslides on the mountainous island. Hours of hurricane force winds severely eroded the coastlines and washed out coastal roads. Damage was greatest in the southwest portion of the island, especially in the capital city, Roseau, which resembled an air raid target after the storm's passage. David's strong winds destroyed or damaged 80% of the homes on the island, leaving 75% of the population homeless, with many others temporarily homeless in the immediate aftermath. In addition, the rainfall turned rivers into torrents, sweeping away everything in their path to the sea. Power lines were completely ripped out, causing the water system to stop as well.

HMS Fife (a Royal Navy County Class Destroyer) was on its way back to the UK when the hurricane struck and was turned back to provide emergency aid to the island. Sailing through mountainous seas The Fife docked in the main harbour at Roseau without assistance and was the only out side help for several days. The crew provided work details and medical parties to offer assistance to the Island and concentrated on the Hospital Buildings, the airstrip and restoring power and water while the ships helicopter (called Humphrey) took medical aid into the hills to assist people who were cut off from getting to other help by fallen trees. The ship also used its radio systems to broadcast news and music to the island to inform the population of what was being done and how to get assistance, this was the first time a Royal Navy ship had provided a public broadcast news service. The ships doctor and helicopter pilot were awarded medals for their work.

Most severely damaged was the agricultural industry. About 75% of the nation's banana and coconut crop was destroyed. Banana fields were completely destroyed, and in the southern portion of the island most coconut trees were blown down. Citrus trees fared better, due to the small yet sturdy nature of the tree. In addition, David's winds uprooted many trees on the tops of mountains, leaving them bare and damaging the ecosystem by disrupting the water levels.

In all, 56 people died in Dominica and 180 were injured. Damage figures are not known.

Lesser Antilles

Aside from Dominica, other islands in the Lesser Antilles experienced minor to moderate damage. Just to the south of Dominica, David brought Martinique winds of up to 100 mph (160 km/h). The capital, Fort-de-France reported wave heights of 15 feet (4.5 m). David's strong winds caused severe crop damage, mostly to bananas, amounting to $50 million ($140 million in 2005 USD) in losses. Though no deaths were reported, the hurricane caused 20 to 30 injuries and left 500 homeless.

Guadeloupe experienced moderate to extensive damage on the island of Basse-Terre. There, the banana crop was completely destroyed, and combined with other losses, crop damage amounted to $100 million ($280 million in 2005 USD). David caused no deaths, a few injuries, and left several hundred homeless. Nearby, Marie-Galante and Les Saintes reported extreme damage.

The island of St. Croix in the U. S. Virgin Islands experienced significant rainfall amounting to 10–12 inches (250–300 mm).

Puerto Rico

Though it did not hit Puerto Rico, Hurricane David passed less than 100 miles (160 km) south of the island, bringing strong winds and heavy rainfall to the island. Portions of southwestern Puerto Rico experienced sustained winds of up to 85 mph (135 km/h), while the rest of the island received tropical storm-force winds. While passing by the island, the hurricane caused strong seas and torrential rainfall, amounting to 19.9 inches (505 mm) in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico and up to 20 inches (510 mm) in the central mountainous region.

Despite remaining offshore, most of the island felt David's effects. Agricultural damage was severe, and combined with property damage, the hurricane was responsible for $70 million in losses ($200 million in 2005 USD). Following the storm, the FEMA declared the island a disaster area. In all, Hurricane David killed seven people in Puerto Rico, four of which resulted from electrocutions.

Dominican Republic

Upon making landfall in the Dominican Republic, David turned unexpectedly to the northwest, causing 125 mph (200 km/h) winds in Santo Domingo and Category 5 winds elsewhere in the country. The storm caused torrential rainfall, resulting in extreme river flooding. The flooding swept away entire villages and isolated communities during the storm's onslaught. A rail-mounted container crane collapsed in Rio Haina at the sea-land terminal. Many roads in the country were either damaged or destroyed from the heavy rainfall, especially in the towns of Jarabocoa, San Cristobal, and Baní.

Nearly 70% of the country's crops were destroyed from the torrential flooding. Extreme river flooding resulted in most of the country's 2,000 fatalities. One particularly deadly example of this was when a rampaging river in the mountainous village of Padre las Casas swept away a church and a school, killing several hundred people who were sheltering there. The flooding destroyed thousands of houses, leaving over 200,000 homeless in the aftermath of the hurricane. President Antonio Guzmán Fernández estimated the combination of agricultural, property, and industrial damage to amount to $1 billion ($2.8 billion in 2005 USD).

Neighboring Haiti experienced very little from David, due to the hurricane's weakened state upon moving through the country.


While passing through the Bahamas, David brought 70–80 mph (115–130 km/h) winds to Andros Island as the eye crossed the archipelago. David, though still disorganized, produced heavy rainfall in the country peaking at 8 inches (200 mm). Strong wind gusts uprooted trees, and overall damage was minimal.

United States

David produced widespread damage across the United States amounting to $320 million ($900 million in 2005 USD). Prior to the hurricane's arrival, 400,000 evacuated from coastal areas. In total, David directly killed five in the United States, and was responsible for ten indirect deaths.


Upon making landfall, David brought a storm surge of only 2–4 feet (0.6–1.2 m), due to its lack of strengthening and the obtuse angle at which it hit. In addition, David caused strong surf and moderate rainfall, amounting to a maximum of 8.92 inches (227 mm) in Vero Beach. Though it made landfall as a Category 2 storm, the strongest winds were localized, and the highest reported wind occurred in Fort Pierce, with 70 mph (115 km/h) sustained and 95 mph (155 km/h) gusts.

Because the hurricane remained near the coastline, Hurricane David failed to cause extreme damage in Florida. The storm's winds shattered windows in stores near the coast and caused property damage, including blowing the frame of the Palm Beach Jai Alai fronton and downing the 186-foot (57-m) WJNO AM radio tower in West Palm Beach into the Intracoastal Waterway. A few roofs were torn off, and numerous buildings were flooded from over 6 inches (150 mm) of rainfall. A 450-foot (140-m) crane was even snapped in two at the St. Lucie nuclear power plant. The hurricane spawned over 10 tornadoes while passing over the state, though caused no deaths or injuries. Total damages in Florida amounted to $95 million ($270 million in 2005 USD), of which $30 million occurred in Palm Beach County, mostly from crop damage.


Hurricane David at landfall in Georgia

Hurricane David made landfall in Georgia as a quickly weakening minimal hurricane, bringing a 3–5 foot (0.9–1.5 m) storm surge and heavy surf. Its inner core remained away from major cities, though Savannah recorded sustained winds of 58 mph (93 km/h) and wind gusts of 68 mph (109 km/h). No major damage occurred in Savannah. High winds downed numerous power lines, leaving many without power for up to 2 weeks after the storm. Offshore, strong seas disrupted a portion of the coastal reef by moving a sunken ship 300 feet (90 m). Overall, Hurricane David was responsible for minor damage and two casualties from its heavy surf.

Mid-Atlantic and New England

Upon entering South Carolina, David retained winds of up to hurricane force, though the highest recorded was 43 mph (69 km/h) sustained in Charleston and a 70 mph (113 km/h) wind gust in Hilton Head Island. Similar winds occurred in North Carolina, and lesser readings were recorded throughout the northeastern United States, excluding a 174 mph (280 km/h) wind gust on Mount Washington in New Hampshire. In addition, David dropped heavy rainfall along its path, peaking at 10.73 inches (273 mm) in Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, with widespread reports of over 5 inches (130 mm). Storm surge was moderate, peaking at 8.8 feet (2.7 m) in Charleston and up to 5 feet (1.5 m) along much of the eastern United States coastline.

Overall, damage was light in most areas, though it was very widespread. High winds and rain downed power lines in the New York City area, leaving 2.5 million people without electricity during the storm's passage. David also caused minor to moderate beach erosion, as well as widespread crop damage from the flooding. In addition, the hurricane spawned numerous tornadoes while moving through the Mid-Atlantic and New England. In Virginia 8 tornadoes formed across the southeastern portion of the state, of which 6 were F2's or greater on the Fujita scale. The tornadoes caused one death, 19 injuries, damaged 270 homes, and destroyed 3 homes, amounting to $6 million ($20 million in 2005 USD) in losses. In Maryland, David's outer bands formed 7 tornadoes. In New Castle County, Delaware, one tornado damaged numerous homes and injured five.



Immediately after the storm, lack of power prevented communications and the outside world had little knowledge of the extent of the damage in Dominica. A citizen named Fred White ended that by using a battery-operated ham radio to contact the world.

In response to the severe agricultural damage, the government initiated a food ration. By two months after the storm, assistance pledges amounted to over $37 million (1979 USD) from various groups around the world. Similar to the aftermath of other natural disasters, the distribution of the aid raised concerns and accusations over the amount of food and material, or lack thereof, for the affected citizens.

Another occurrence less typical of the aftermath of other natural disasters was the looting. In supermarkets, seaports, and homes, what was not destroyed by the hurricane was stolen in the weeks after the storm. This kind of lawlessness is occasionally seen, particularly in economically poor areas, in the aftermath of catastrophes such as Hurricane Hugo, Hurricane Jeanne, and Hurricane Katrina.

United States

Despite the casualties and damages attributed to David, the storm's effects were not as bad as in other countries. In particular, South Florida escaped relatively lightly. Because of this, NHC Director Neil Frank was accused of overly stirring up panic before the arrival of David: two local psychiatrists even claimed that the experience would make residents more complacent towards future storms. However, the NHC defended their methods, with Neil Frank stating: "If we hadn't [raised public alarm] and our predictions had been more accurate, the consequences would have been disastrous."


The name David was retired following this storm, and will never again be used for an Atlantic hurricane. It was replaced with Danny for the 1985 season.

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