Hurricane Iris before landfall in Belize
|Formed||October 4, 2001|
|Dissipated||October 9, 2001|
|Highest winds||1-minute sustained:
145 mph (230 km/h)
|Lowest pressure||948 mbar (hPa); 27.99 inHg|
|Damage||$250 million (2001 USD)|
|Areas affected||Windward Islands, Hispaniola, Jamaica, Honduras, Belize, Guatemala, eastern Mexico|
|Part of the 2001 Atlantic hurricane season|
Hurricane Iris was the most damaging hurricane in Belize in 40 years since Hurricane Hattie in 1961. Iris was the second strongest storm of the 2001 Atlantic hurricane season, behind Hurricane Michelle. It was the ninth named storm, fifth hurricane, and third major hurricane[nb 1] of the year, forming on October 4 just southeast of Barbados from a tropical wave. It moved westward through the Caribbean, intensifying into a tropical storm on October 5 south of Puerto Rico and later into a hurricane the following day. While passing south of the Dominican Republic, Iris dropped heavy rainfall that caused landslides, killing eight people. Later, it passed south of Jamaica, destroying two houses. When Iris reached the western Caribbean Sea, it rapidly intensified into a category 4 on the Saffir-Simpson scale. It was a small hurricane, and its eye diameter was only 7 mi (11 km). Iris reached peak winds of 145 mph (230 km/h) before making landfall in southern Belize near Monkey River Town on October 9. It quickly dissipated over Central America, although its remnants contributed to the development of Tropical Storm Manuel in the eastern Pacific Ocean.
Damage was heaviest in Belize, totaling $250 million (2001 USD).[nb 2] Iris struck only a year after Hurricane Keith made landfall in northern Belize. Due to the compact nature of Iris, only the Toledo and Stann Creek districts were affected in Belize, although Iris damaged 72% and 50% of houses in the respective districts. Iris damaged or destroyed 3,718 homes, and it destroyed more than 95% of the homes in 35 villages. The high winds caused widespread crop damage, mostly from the banana crop, and large swaths of forest were damaged. Striking the poorest parts of the country, Iris left about 15,000 people homeless, many of whom received assistance from the government and the local Red Cross chapter. Iris killed 24 people in Belize, including 20 people who died when a scuba diving boat capsized near Big Creek. The storm also caused damage in neighboring Guatemala, killing eight people and damaging about 2,500 homes, and later dropped heavy rainfall in southern Mexico, where two people died.
Toward the end of September 2001, a poorly defined tropical wave moved westward across the tropical Atlantic Ocean. It moved through an area of hostile wind shear, caused by a large upper-level low associated with a trough to the northeast of the Lesser Antilles. A few days later, the upper-level low detached from the trough and moved southwestward over the Caribbean Sea. This allowed for the formation of an upper-level ridge, or high pressure area, over the tropical wave. The ridge provided a favorable environment for organization, and subsequently an area of convection increased along the wave axis. As the wave approached the Lesser Antilles, a mid-level circulation formed within the deep convection, and gradually a low-level circulation became more pronounced on satellite imagery; though its low-level circulation was very small and poorly defined, the system organized enough to be classified as Tropical Depression Eleven at 1200 UTC on October 4, while located about 100 mi (160 km) southeast of Barbados. Nine hours after developing, Hurricane Hunters confirmed the formation of the depression.
In the first discussion on the depression, around which time the depression was passing between St. Vincent and St. Lucia, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) noted the potential for it to degenerate into a tropical wave if the cyclone maintained its fast forward motion. However, the official forecast was for the depression to gradually intensify, with its movement to the west-northwest under the influence of a strong ridge to its north. Compared to its appearance 24 hours prior, the depression had improved outflow and more distinct convection, although the circulation initially remained very poorly organized. In the hours after its formation, flights by the Hurricane Hunters failed to report a closed circulation, despite its well-organized appearance on satellite imagery. Late on October 5, the Hurricane Hunters reported a circulation with flight-level winds of 74 mph (119 km/h), which was adjusted to a surface intensity of 60 mph (95 km/h); based on the data, the depression was upgraded to Tropical Storm Iris about 155 mi (250 km) south of the southern coast of Puerto Rico. In post-season analysis, the NHC estimated Iris attained tropical storm status about nine hours earlier.
Despite its intensification and well-organized satellite appearance, the circulation remained very poorly defined. One forecaster noted the center as fragile, and that the cyclone could dissipate quickly if it encountered stronger wind shear to its south; however, the official forecast was for Iris to attain hurricane status while passing south of Hispaniola and Jamaica. Its overall appearance did not change significantly, although on October 6 the Hurricane Hunters reported a closed eye, 23 mi (37 km) in diameter, with a stadium effect. Late that day, Iris attained hurricane status just to the southwest of the southern tip of the Dominican Republic. Upon becoming a hurricane, Iris maintained well-established outflow, and the NHC noted land interaction with the Greater Antilles as the only factor impeding further development. After reaching winds of 85 mph (140 km/h) early on October 7, its intensity remained steady for about 24 hours. During that time, its satellite appearance became slightly ragged as its outflow became restricted, possibly due to an upper-level low. By late on October 7, the area of hurricane force winds associated with Iris extended only 25 mi (35 km) from its 16 mi (22 km) wide eye.
Early on October 8 after turning west-southwestward away from the Greater Antilles, Iris began strengthening again. With warm waters and an absence of significant wind shear, it was forecast to intensify further. The NHC predicted peak winds of about 105 mph (165 km/h) before hitting Belize. It rapidly intensified with the favorable conditions, intensifying from 95 mph (150 km/h) to 140 mph (225 km/h) in a 12 hour period on October 8, making Iris a Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale; in the same 12 hour period, the minimum central pressure dropped 38 mbar (1.12 inHg). While intensifying, the hurricane developed concentric eyewalls, with an innermost eye having a diameter of 7 mi (11 km). For comparison, the smallest known eye diameter on record for an Atlantic hurricane was about 3 mi (5 km) during Hurricane Wilma in 2005. With Iris having such a small eye, a Hurricane Hunters flight could not deploy a dropsonde into the center of the eye, and shortly after the flight, the innermost eye collapsed as the core paralleled the Honduras coastline just offshore. This resulted in a temporary and slight weakening during an eyewall replacement cycle, and within a few hours Iris re-intensified to attain peak winds of 145 mph (230 km/h) just offshore Belize. At 0200 UTC on October 9, Iris made landfall at peak intensity in Monkey River Town in the southern portion of Belize.
Initially, Hurricane Iris was forecast to remain a tropical cyclone while crossing Central America and for it to re-intensify in the eastern Pacific Ocean; had it done so, it would have retained the name Iris. The hurricane rapidly weakened after moving ashore into the mountainous terrain of Guatemala, and within six hours of landfall the hurricane weakened to a tropical storm. Late on October 9, within sixteen hours of landfall, the tropical cyclone dissipated over extreme southeastern Mexico. As the remnants approached the Pacific Ocean, a new area of convection developed south of the original circulation of Iris. It gradually organized while continuing westward, developing into Tropical Storm Manuel and ultimately lasting until October 18 before succumbing to cooler waters and wind shear.
Over a stretch of four days, sixteen tropical cyclone watches and warnings were issued in association with Iris, including the Dominican Republic, the Cuban provinces of Granma and Santiago de Cuba, Jamaica, Cayman Islands, the Yucatán Peninsula, Guatemala, Honduras and Belize. The threat from Iris prompted the activation of the Jamaica National Emergency Operations Center. Shelters were opened but were ultimately unused.
In Belize, a hurricane warning was issued about 23 hours before Iris moved ashore. A state of national emergency was declared on October 8 as Hurricane Iris neared landfall. All emergency response committees were activated to quickly begin recovery efforts. A mandatory evacuation was issued for Stan Creek and Toledo coastal villages and all islands. The main hospital in Belize City was evacuated as a precaution and the city itself was placed under a voluntary evacuation order. Overall, 11,380 people evacuated their homes in Belize, including many in Belize City. The evacuations were later credited for limiting the death toll. Hurricane Keith struck the nation a year prior, which prepared some citizens. Disaster response teams arrived the day after Iris was projected to make landfall. Pan American Health Organization staff were on standby in Belize, Guatemala and Honduras and were ready to respond to any post-storm disease outbreaks.
On October 8, the Government of Honduras declared a red alert for all northern regions, advising residents to expect "extreme weather conditions." About 5,000 people in the country evacuated from their homes. To the north of Belize, officials in Mexico evacuated people from fishing villages and closed ports.
Lesser and Greater Antilles
As Iris was in its development stages, residents as far north as Saint Thomas reported rain and thunderstorms. In the Dominican Republic, Iris dropped around 3 in (76 mm) of rainfall along the coast, forcing 35 families to evacuate their homes after rivers exceeded their banks. The rains triggered a landslide outside of Santo Domingo that destroyed a home, killing a family of three. There was another landslide in the region that injured two people. Iris's passage near Jamaica left two houses destroyed and another two with damaged roofs, causing one injury. Otherwise, damage in the country was minimal.
A 120 ft (37 m) scuba diving boat overturned during the hurricane near Big Creek, Belize, possibly related to a tornado. The boat, named the Wave Dancer, had 28 people on board, including 20 people from the Richmond, Virginia Dive Club; most of them were upstairs in the boat, and none were diving. The captain had delayed in returning to shore, and the passengers waited for the storm to pass along a dock, not anticipating the ferocity. Iris cut the ropes connecting the boat to the dock, causing it to overturn in 12 ft (3.7 m) waters. Eight people survived, and 11 bodies were recovered; it was presumed that 20 people died during the wreck, including 15 people from the Richmond, Virginia area and three crew members.
Another boat, the Vendera, also reportedly capsized with people on board.
|Wettest tropical cycloneBelize
Highest known recorded totals
|1||829.8||32.67||Keith 2000||Phillip Goodson Int'l Airport|||
|2||546.6||21.52||T.D. #16 2008||Baldy Beacon|||
|4||246.0||9.69||Mitch 1998||Central Farm Meteorological Station|||
|5||241.0||9.49||Gert 1993||Hunting Caye|||
|6||179.0||7.05||Greta 1978||Central Farm Meteorological Station|||
|7||152.4||6.00||Fifi 1974||La Placencia|||
|8||131.0||5.16||Hermine 1980||Central Farm Meteorological Station|||
|10||68.0||2.68||Opal 1995||Central Farm Meteorological Station|||
Hurricane Iris moved ashore in Belize with winds of 145 mph (233 km/h), although the highest measured winds were 106 mph (171 km/h) at a station in Big Creek. Because of its small diameter, Iris only produced heavy damage in a 70 mi (110 km) area of southern Belize. In that vicinity, the hurricane produced a storm surge of up to 15 ft (4.6 m), and the storm produced waves of over 13 ft (4.0 m) in height, causing street flooding and some damage to the offshore cayes.
As it moved ashore, Iris damaged houses and schools in dozens of villages, mostly along a 50 mi (80 km) swath of land. In 35 villages, the storm destroyed more than 95% of the buildings. The storm's small size confined the worst damage largely to Toledo and Stann Creek districts, which are the southernmost two, as well as the poorest districts of the country. In both districts, the storm caused power outages and contaminated water supplies. The remainder of the country remained generally unaffected during the storm. In the worst affected areas, poor Mayan people living on farms lost much of what they owned. Throughout Toledo district, the hurricane damaged 72% of the houses, and about 50% of the homes in Stann Creek were damaged. At Placencia near the coast, about 80% of the homes were destroyed and many of the remaining buildings had roof damage, with downed power poles in the streets. About 90% of the houses in nearby Seine Bight were destroyed, and where Iris made landfall, over 90% of the homes were destroyed throughout Monkey River Town. Collectively, Iris left about 15,000 people homeless between Toledo and Stann Creek districts. The storm damaged several roads and fishing piers in southern Belize. Iris also damaged tourism facilities, including minor impact to the Maya ruins of Belize, and damaging 20% of the hotel rooms in the country, accounting for $37 million in losses.
In southern Belize, the storm's strong winds left crop damage, in some cases where the harvest had just begun. About 5,000 acres (2,000 ha) of bananas were destroyed, along with over 3,500 acres (1,400 ha) of rice, 3,000 acres (1,200 ha) of corn, and other crops to lesser degrees. The storm also flooded fields, and several livestock were killed. The shrimp industry lost 25% of their catch, partly due to contaminated waters. Crop damage in Belize was estimated at $103 million, mostly from banana losses. Iris's strong winds also damaged large swaths of forest, with upwards of 40% of trees damaged in some areas. This disrupted the habitats of several animals, and it is likely that many of the howler monkeys near Monkey River were killed. The storm's strong waves incurred beach erosion, although marine effects were much less than that of Hurricane Keith in the previous year. Nevertheless, there were reports of fish die-offs after the storm, possibly from low oxygen due to too much decaying matter.
Nationwide, Iris damaged or destroyed 3,718 homes, directly affecting a total of 21,568 people, or 8.5% of the total population. The storm damaged or destroyed 31 schools and 17 health facilities, along with 21 government buildings. There was about $25 million in damage to the transportation sector, including highways and bridges. There were 24 deaths in the country, including the victims of the Wave Dancer shipwreck. Overall damage was estimated at $250 million, making it the most damaging storm in the country since Hurricane Hattie in 1961.
Elsewhere in Central America
In both Guatemala and Honduras, high tides and heavy rainfall caused power outages. In the former country, Iris dropped heavy rainfall, generally amounting to 3 to 4 in (76 to 102 mm), which triggered flash flooding and landslides that injured nearly 100 people. The damage was heaviest in Petén Department in the northern portion of the country. The storm damaged 26 schools, and damaged 2,500 homes in the country's central portion. An estimated 27,500 people were affected by the storm throughout the country. There were eight deaths in the country, including two who were struck by fallen trees.
On October 9, the government of Belize issued the "all clear" signal, indicating that the storm had fully passed. Following this, reconstruction efforts and damage assessment began. The government declared Stann Creek and Toledo districts as disaster areas, and officials declared a nighttime curfew. By the day after the storm struck, the airport in Belize City had been reopened, and transportation in all but the southern portion of the country returned to normal. Residents in the southern part of the country lost access to fresh water, forcing them to drink unclean water. Officials sent medical teams to southern Belize in the most affected areas. The Belmopan Red Cross issued an appeal for residents to donate money, clothing, and food for storm victims. The Red Cross also set up shelters and gave food to more than 7,000 people. By October 19, most roads in southern Belize were reopened. The Belize government printed a new postage stamp to help pay for reconstruction costs, and officials authorized spending $1.2 million to rebuild damaged homes. To assist the farmers who lost crops, the Belize government provided 18,000 lb (8,200 kg) of maize seeds as well as fertilizer. After the storm, the World Food Programme and the Belize Red Cross collectively provided food for the 9,000 families in need of subsidence. By October 31, the Red Cross had provided blankets, tarps, and hygienic supplies to 4,800 people severely affected by the storm. Homes were gradually repaired, and crop production returned to normal by early 2002. Around Christmastime, the Belize Red Cross provided presents to school children in 14 villages affected by the storm. The lost banana crop caused sales to decrease by 22% in 2002, although sales gradually recovered.
The government of Belize issued an appeal to the international community for assistance in the days following Iris's landfall, and various countries subsequently provided aid. The United Kingdom sent a helicopter to assist in damage assessment and a crew to clean water. The United States also sent a crew for damage assessment and donated plastic sheeting. Although sustaining significant damage, the Government of Guatemala deployed a working team with members from throughout the country to assist in recovery in Belize. Nearby Mexico sent blankets, mattresses, food, and water, as well as a medical team. The Japanese government sent tents and blankets, and the Chinese government donated 500 lb (230 kg) of rice and dried fruits. Various United Nations departments donated about $225,000.
The American victims of the Wave Dancer boat wreck offshore Belize were flown back to the Richmond, Virginia area following the storm. The insurance company covering the boat reached a $4 million settlement, which was dispersed among the survivors and the victims' families. The boat operator remained in business following the accident.
The name Iris was retired in the spring of 2002 by the World Meteorological Organization and will never again be used for an Atlantic hurricane. Iris was replaced by Ingrid, which was used in the 2007 Atlantic hurricane season.
- List of retired Atlantic hurricane names
- Other tropical cyclones named Iris
- List of Category 4 Atlantic hurricanes
- 1931 Belize hurricane – deadly hurricane that struck Belize
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