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The 1979 Planet Z Atlantic hurricane season was the first year when Atlantic hurricanes were named on Planet Z. An above-average season in terms of activity, the season consisted of 16 named storms, 9 hurricanes, and 4 major hurricanes (one of which, Henry, was a Category 5).

Due to the Bermuda High being located farther east than normal, only six storms (Cassie, Henry, Lazlo, Molly, Norbert, and Odessa) made landfall, although a seventh that did not do so, Bob, also impacted land. The worst storm of the season by far was Hurricane Henry. The strongest storm of the season by a substantial margin, Henry came dangerously close to the Leeward Islands and Hispaniola near peak intensity, made 3 landfalls in Cuba at Category 4 and 5 intensity, and finally smashed ashore the Florida panhandle as a strong Category 3 hurricane, leaving behind hundreds of deaths and billions of dollars in damage. Hurricanes Lazlo and Percy were two other notable storms this season. Hurricane Lazlo also dealt noteworthy damage to Florida, amounting to $670 million. While it never impacted land, Hurricane Percy set several records for its longevity and intensity in mid-December.

Storms

Tropical Storm Ashley

Tropical Storm Ashley TS TS
Ashley 1979
Duration July 17—July 19
Intensity 40 mph, 1004 mbar

In early July, a tropical wave formed along the ITCZ (Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone) and moved northwestward. It was slow to organize, taking a week to show signs of probable tropical development. During the afternoon of July 17, a closed circulation developed and Tropical Depression One was born. Just after midnight on July 18, a Hurricane Hunters flight found tropical-storm force sustained winds in the center of circulation, and the depression was further upgraded to Tropical Storm Ashley. However, easterly shear (which is highly unusual) displaced the majority of Ashley's convection to the west of the center of circulation. After 24 hours as a tropical storm, Ashley weakened back into a tropical depression. Early on July 19, Ashley's circulation was no longer evident, and the National Hurricane Center issued their final advisory on the system as it degenerated into a remnant low. As Ashley never affected land, there were no reports of deaths or damage due to the storm.

Hurricane Bob

Hurricane Bob 4
Bob 1979
Duration July 31—August 7
Intensity 135 mph, 944 mbar

A tropical wave emerged off the coast of Africa on July 27. Though presented with rather warm ocean water and a moist atmosphere, strong wind shear slowed the wave's organization to a crawl. Gradually, the wind shear let up, and the wave developed a closed circulation. On July 31, a Hurricane Hunters flight determined that the wave had tropical storm-force winds and it was immediately upgraded to Tropical Storm Bob, skipping tropical depression status. Bob steadily intensified, becoming the season's first hurricane late the next day. Shortly afterward, Bob underwent rapid intensification, strengthening from a 75 mph minimal Category 1 hurricane to a 120 mph Category 3 major hurricane in only 12 hours. Six hours later on August 2, Bob intensified further to reach its initial peak intensity with 125 mph winds and a pressure of 951 mbar. Bob maintained this intensity for 18 hours before weakening to a strong Category 2 hurricane due to an eyewall replacement cycle.

After the cycle was completed, Bob restrengthened to reach its final peak intensity as a low-end Category 4 hurricane with 135 mph winds on August 4. At this time, Bob made its closest approach to land, passing 60 miles east of Bermuda and spread tropical storm-force winds (with hurricane-force gusts) and heavy rain over the archipelago. After this, Bob turned to the northeast, accelerated and weakened over cooler water with increasing wind shear. Early on August 7, Bob weakened to a tropical storm, becoming post-tropical later that day. Minor damages in Bermuda amounted to $6 million, but no lives were lost.

Tropical Storm Cassie

Tropical Storm Cassie TS TS
Cassie 1979
Duration August 12—August 13
Intensity 70 mph, 995 mbar

A short-lived but strong tropical storm, Cassie formed out of a vigorous tropical wave in the western Gulf of Mexico early on August 12; as tropical storm-force winds were immediately found, Cassie skipped tropical depression status. Excessively warm sea water (86F), low wind shear, and moist air provided highly conducive conditions for development, and Cassie was able to rapidly intensify. However, proximity to land prohibited Cassie from reaching hurricane strength, and the storm made landfall along the border of the Mexican provinces of Tamaulipas and Veracruz with 70 mph winds – just below hurricane status. Cassie rapidly weakened over land, and by late on August 13, the circulation of Cassie had dissipated over the high mountains of central Mexico. Damage amounted to $25 million, and Cassie claimed 4 lives.

Hurricane Dylan

Hurricane Dylan 3
Dylan 1979
Duration August 24—August 30
Intensity 120 mph, 956 mbar

Stayed far away from any land areas. Peaked as a moderate Category 3 storm (the season's second major hurricane) early on August 28.

Tropical Storm Emily

Tropical Storm Emily TS TS
Emily 1979
Duration August 30—September 1
Intensity 45 mph, 1003 mbar

Weak storm that never affected land.

Tropical Storm Fabian

Tropical Storm Fabian TS TS
Fabian 1979
Duration September 2—September 8
Intensity 70 mph, 988 mbar

Strong tropical storm that came very close to becoming a hurricane. Threatened Bermuda, but veered away at the last minute.

Hurricane Gloria

Hurricane Gloria 3
Gloria 1979
Duration September 6—September 12
Intensity 115 mph, 962 mbar

Third major hurricane of the season; low-end Category 3 hurricane that, save for light showers in Cape Verde early in its life, did not affect land.

Hurricane Henry

Hurricane Henry 5
Henry 1979
Duration September 14—September 29
Intensity 180 mph, 903 mbar

Hurricane Henry was the strongest, and overall worst, storm of the season. A classic Cape Verde-type hurricane, Henry developed from a tropical wave which moved off the coast of Africa late on September 12. The wave quickly organized itself, and became Tropical Depression Ten early on September 14. Upon being classified, the depression was forecast to slowly intensify and curve out to sea, becoming a hurricane within four days. However, westerly shear increased and the depression stopped strengthening, nearly dissipating during the morning of September 15. Despite the shear, warm ocean water temperatures and moist air kept the depression alive; intensifying only very gradually at first, it developed into Tropical Storm Henry just after midnight UTC on September 16. The intensification rate of Henry was equally as slow as the weakening of the wind shear aloft, and Henry eventually developed an eye structure late on September 18. Six hours later, Henry was designated a hurricane based on satellite estimates. Twelve hours after Henry became a hurricane, the wind shear it had been battling earlier virtually dissipated, and the storm's cloud tops cooled rapidly. Provided an essential environment for any tropical cyclone, Henry underwent explosive intensification; wind speeds rose from 85 mph to 140 mph in a single advisory as the storm passed only 50 miles north of the Leeward Islands, and Henry was upgraded to a Category 4 major hurricane.

Henry's phase of rapid intensification did not stop there; only six hours after becoming a Category 4 hurricane, Henry attained 165 mph winds, making it a Category 5 hurricane; the first one in the Atlantic basin on Planet Z in 16 years, and the first with a name. Early on September 20, Henry strengthened further still to reach its peak intensity with 180 mph winds and a minimum central pressure of 903 mbar while only 20 miles offshore the Dominican Republic. At the time, this made Henry the second-most intense Atlantic hurricane on record on Planet Z; only the 1948 Yucatan-Louisiana hurricane was stronger, with 185 mph winds and a minimum central pressure of 896 mbar.

While skirting the northern coast of Hispaniola, land interaction caused Henry to gradually weaken; however, it was still a Category 5 hurricane when it made landfall in eastern Cuba late in the afternoon on September 21, with 160 mph winds and a pressure of 919 mbar. As Henry emerged into the Caribbean Sea as a low-end Category 4 hurricane with 135 mph winds, a strong high pressure system developed over the Bahamas, gradually steering Henry to the north. Henry regained strength during its short time in the Caribbean Sea, and passed directly over the Isle of Youth with 155 mph winds, just below the Category 5 threshold; if given just hours longer before landfall, Henry would have likely regained Category 5 intensity. Henry weakened slightly over the Isle of Youth, and made its third and final Cuba landfall with 150 mph winds in Pinar del Rio province around midday on September 23.

As Henry entered the Gulf of Mexico, the storm's winds slowed down to 135 mph, making Henry once again a low-end Category 4 hurricane. Henry briefly re-strengthened, reaching a tertiary peak intensity of 145 mph winds around 0900 UTC September 24. At this time, Henry decelerated as it turned to the north-northwest. Dry air aloft caused Henry to slowly weaken as it approached the United States Gulf Coast. At approximately 1300 UTC September 25 (9:00 a.m. local time), Henry made its final landfall near Fort Walton Beach, Florida, with 125 mph winds and a pressure of 941 mbar, making Henry a strong Category 3 at the time of landfall.

Once inland over the southeastern United States, Henry weakened quickly at first, being downgraded to a tropical storm within 18 hours after landfall. However, Henry's weakening rate gradually slowed down, and it took until early September 27 for the storm to weaken to a tropical depression. Following the aforementioned downgrade, Henry remained consistently intact well inland. Early on September 29, the National Hurricane Center issued their final advisory on Tropical Depression Henry as it became absorbed by a frontal system.

Henry was a highly destructive hurricane, causing a total of $14.4 billion worth of damages and 687 deaths. By individual area, Hispaniola experienced $887 million in damage with 545 fatalities; Cuba experienced $6.2 billion in damage with 36 fatalities; and the United States experienced $7.022 billion in damage with 98 fatalities. (The remaining $291 million in damage and 8 fatalities occurred in Puerto Rico and the Leeward Islands.)

The name Henry was retired following this storm. It was replaced with Heffer for the 1985 season.

Hurricane Isabel

Hurricane Isabel 2
Isabel 1979
Duration September 20—September 25
Intensity 100 mph, 972 mbar

Hurricane Isabel stayed out at sea, although a hurricane watch was briefly issued for Bermuda before Isabel abruptly turned to the northeast.

Tropical Storm Jerry

Tropical Storm Jerry TS TS
Jerry 1979
Duration September 20—September 24
Intensity 65 mph, 994 mbar

Jerry was a strong tropical storm that never impacted land.

Hurricane Karen

Hurricane Karen 1
Karen 1979
Duration September 26—September 28
Intensity 75 mph, 982 mbar

Karen's origins were quite unique. In late September, a destructive European windstorm circled around a small high-pressure system which was situated over northwestern Spain. Eventually, the storm emerged back over open waters at the Strait of Gibraltar, and began to re-intensify. Once again, the extratropical gale center attained hurricane-force winds. Gradually, sufficiently warm waters herded convection closer to the center. On September 26, the gale center became tropical while still packing sustained hurricane-force winds, and was immediately upgraded to Hurricane Karen; the only occurrence on record where an Atlantic tropical cyclone skipped both tropical depression and tropical storm status (however, Hurricane Filburt in 1991 was immediately declared a hurricane upon becoming tropical, although Filburt developed from a previously subtropical cyclone that had hurricane-force winds).

Karen was not a hurricane for long; it entered an area of cooler waters and weakened to a tropical storm early on September 27. Continuing to weaken, Karen lost all tropical characteristics on September 28. Despite peaking in intensity as a hurricane, Karen was a tropical cyclone for only 42 hours.

Hurricane Lazlo

Hurricane Lazlo 1
Lazlo 1979
Duration October 2—October 8
Intensity 90 mph, 977 mbar

An area of disturbed weather developed over the southwestern Bahamas as September transferred into October. Slowly drifting to the northwest, the low developed a low-level circulation, being declared a tropical depression on October 2. The next day, it intensified to become Tropical Storm Lazlo. Given highly favorable conditions between Florida and the Bahamas, Lazlo rapidly intensified, becoming a hurricane only 18 hours after becoming a named storm. Early on October 4, Lazlo reached its peak intensity as a strong Category 1 hurricane with 90 mph winds and a barometric pressure of 977 mbar, making landfall in Miami, Florida, just four hours later. Steering currents were weak over southern and central Florida, causing Lazlo to perform a small loop just northwest of Lake Okeechobee, and to remain over southern Florida for nearly two full days. At last, on October 6, a cold front caused Lazlo to accelerate to the northeast, having barely weakened at all over Florida; it was still packing sustained winds of 70 mph – a strong tropical storm – by the time it exited back into the Atlantic Ocean. Lazlo re-intensified once back over open water, reaching a secondary peak of 85 mph winds on October 7 before becoming post-tropical the next day.

As Lazlo stalled over Florida, widespread flooding occurred, correlating to maximum rainfall totals of 26.73 inches in Moore Haven, Florida. Wind damage was also greater than normal due to prolonged hurricane-force winds over the same area. Extensive flooding and wind damage led total damage costs to reach $890 million with 24 fatalities. Despite its effects, the name Lazlo was not retired.

Tropical Storm Molly

Tropical Storm Molly TS TS
Molly 1979
Duration October 11—October 14
Intensity 60 mph, 1000 mbar

A passing warm front left behind scattered showers and thunderstorms as a form of residue as the first week of October came to an end. The warm front had helped to slightly increase sea surface temperatures, allowing for Subtropical Depression One to develop early on October 11 just north of the Bahamas. Weak steering currents caused the depression to drift among marginally favorable conditions, and One soon strengthened into a subtropical storm. A ridge of high pressure quickly built to the east, sending Subtropical Storm One to the north. Late on October 12, One became fully tropical, thus earning it the name Molly. Upon becoming tropical, Molly was at peak intensity as a moderate tropical storm; maximum sustained winds were 60 mph, and the lowest barometric pressure was 1000 mbar. Increasing wind shear caused Molly to slightly weaken before making landfall near Wilmington, North Carolina, with 50 mph winds on October 13. Molly rapidly weakened over land, dissipating early on October 14 while located over the Appalachian Mountains.

Damage from Molly itself was minor, failing to exceed $1.5 million. However, Molly's remnants merged with a strong Alberta clipper to form a large, intense low pressure system that spread extreme winds and heavy rain over New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New England; upstate New York and northern New England reported up to 6.3 inches of snow, and many locations there reported blizzard conditions. South of there, where temperatures were too warm to support snow, heavy rains caused widespread flooding, especially in low-lying areas and near rivers. High winds gusted up to 64 mph in Burlington Vermont, 76 mph in Lowell, Massachusetts, 91 mph in Albany, New York, and 125 mph at the summit of Mt. Washington. In all, the storm wrought $800 million in damages and killed 56 people.

Because the worst effects were from Molly's remnants, and not Molly itself, the name Molly was not retired after this season. However, Hurricane Molly of the 1985 season would lead to the name's retirement after that storm caused catastrophic damage in Georgia and northeastern Florida. It was replaced with Megan for the 1991 season.

Hurricane Norbert

Hurricane Norbert 2
Norbert 1979
Duration October 28—November 2
Intensity 100 mph, 968 mbar

A tropical wave broke free of the ITCZ on October 24 and moved westward. The wave was small, but relatively well-organized, and convection gradually migrated closer to the center as a low-pressure center formed within the wave. On October 28, a closed circulation was evident via satellite representation, and reconnaissance aircraft reported tropical storm-force winds in the center of circulation. Because of these findings, the National Hurricane Center issued a special advisory to announce that the wave had developed into Tropical Storm Norbert south of Jamaica, skipping tropical depression status. Norbert gradually intensified, and late on October 29, it became the eighth hurricane of the season, peaking in intensity as a (tiny) Category 2 hurricane the next day. Just offshore Belize, Norbert encountered weak steering currents and drifted about, slowly weakening as it completed a small, counter-clockwise loop. Late on October 31, Norbert made landfall in northern Belize as a Category 1 hurricane with 80 mph winds. In addition to being cut off from its fuel, Norbert was menaced with strong wind shear, completely dissipating on November 2.

Throughout Belize and eastern Mexico, strong winds and heavy rains wrought $50 million in damages and claimed 3 lives.

Tropical Storm Odessa

Tropical Storm Odessa TS TS
Odessa 1979
Duration November 15—November 17
Intensity 50 mph, 1002 mbar

Odessa was a short-lived, moderately weak tropical storm that struck Nicaragua in mid-November. While Odessa's weak nature meant that winds were only a minor issue, torrential rains triggered widespread flooding and mudslides that led to $125 million in damages and 257 deaths. Despite the high death toll, the name Odessa was not retired.

Hurricane Percy

Hurricane Percy 1
Percy 1979
Duration December 9—December 22
Intensity 80 mph, 981 mbar

Percy developed on December 9, after the official end of the hurricane season. After forming, Tropical Depression Seventeen was quick to intensify into a tropical storm (thus earning it the name Percy), but was slow to become a hurricane. Eventually, despite hostile conditions consisting of strong wind shear and relatively cool sea surface temperatures, Percy developed an eye late on September 14, and developed characteristics not dissimilar to those of an annular hurricane. Twelve hours later, on December 15, Percy became a hurricane. Percy never strengthened past wind speeds of 80 mph; however, it held that intensity for several days, and Percy did not weaken back into a tropical storm until December 18; only to regain hurricane status for a brief time on December 19. Afterward, Percy finally began a steady weakening trend. It weakened to a tropical depression late on December 21, and 18 hours later, on December 22, Percy finally dissipated.

Percy spent four full days as a hurricane, the longest time spent at hurricane strength for a December Atlantic hurricane on record. Also, when Percy became a hurricane on December 15, it was the latest date on record that an Atlantic tropical cyclone had reached hurricane strength. Lastly, Percy spent 13.25 days as a tropical cyclone, longer than any Atlantic tropical cyclone in December on record. Even though it broke several records, the lack of any effects from Hurricane Percy meant that the name was not retired. However, Hurricane Percy of 1985 would become the strongest and deadliest Atlantic hurricane on record. The name Percy was retired following the 1985 storm, and it was replaced with Peter for the 1991 season.

Storm names

The following names were used for the 1979 season. The 1979 season was the first to use naming for tropical cyclones worldwide; therefore, every name used (Ashley, Bob, Cassie, Dylan, Emily, Fabian, Gloria, Henry, Isabel, Jerry, Karen, Lazlo, Molly, Norbert, Odessa, and Percy) was used for the first time this year. Lists are rotated every six years, so the names not retired after this year were used again for the 1985 season. Unused names are marked in gray.

  • Ashley
  • Bob
  • Cassie
  • Dylan
  • Emily
  • Fabian
  • Gloria
  • Henry
  • Isabel
  • Jerry
  • Karen
  • Lazlo
  • Molly
  • Norbert
  • Odessa
  • Percy
  • Rita (unused)
  • Stan (unused)
  • Tina (unused)
  • Victor (unused)
  • Wendy (unused)

Retirement

The name Henry was retired after this season. It was replaced with Heffer for the 1985 season.

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