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Preliminary Report
Hurricane Lili
14 - 27 October 1996

Miles B. Lawrence
National Hurricane Center
18 November 1996

Tropical Storm Arthur
Hurricane Bertha
Hurricane Cesar
Hurricane Dolly
Hurricane Edouard
Hurricane Fran
Tropical Storm Gustav
Hurricane Hortense
Hurricane Isidore
Tropical Storm Josephine
Tropical Storm Kyle
Hurricane Lili
Hurricane Marco


 Visible image of Hurricane Hortense pounding western and central Cuba at 1745 UTC 18 October 1996. (197K GIF)

[1996 Atlantic Hurricane Season]

Lili was the sixth category 3 Atlantic hurricane on the Saffir/Simpson hurricane scale during 1996. It moved across central Cuba and the central Bahamas with sustained winds in the 80 to 90 knot range.

a. Synoptic History

A tropical wave moved from Africa to the Atlantic Ocean on 4 October accompanied by a large cyclonic rotation of low clouds and a mid-tropospheric jet. The wave moved westward under an unfavorable strong vertical shear environment and, on 11 October, passed through the Windward Islands where a marked wind shift and large 24-hour pressure changes were observed. It reached the southwestern Caribbean on the 13th, where a pre-existing area of low surface pressure was located.

The system developed a well-defined low-level circulation and became a tropical depression at about 1200 UTC on the 14th, just east of Nicaragua, and began moving northwestward at about eight knots. The track in Fig. 1 and Table 1 begins at this time.

Over the next two days, the depression turned north and then north-northeastward in response to a weak mid- to upper-level low over the Gulf of Mexico. Although there appeared to be considerable convective banding and falling surface pressures, aircraft data showed that the depression did not strengthen to a storm until early on the 16th, when the center was close to Swan Island. With a well-established outflow over the circulation, Lili strengthened to a hurricane on the 17th.

Moving slowly, the center executed a small cyclonic loop just north of Swan Island on the 16th and wobbled again on the 17th as it approached the Isle of Youth, Cuba. The center passed over the eastern side of the Isle of Youth near 0100 UTC on the 18th and made landfall on the south coast of mainland Cuba in Matanzas Province at 0930 UTC. The maximum sustained surface winds had strengthened to near 85 knots at landfall as Lili turned eastward for a twelve-hour crossing of central Cuba on the 18th.

A major trough in the westerlies moved to the eastern United States as Lili approached Cuba and this resulted in the hurricane accelerating mostly northeastward to a forward speed of near 25 knots by late on the 19th.

The hurricane maintained its strength over Cuba. The pressure was measured by aircraft at 975 millibars just before landfall and the same pressure was measured again when the eye moved back over water. Accelerating toward the Bahamas, there was further strengthening and Lili went through the central Bahamas early on the 19th with sustained winds of near 90 knots. The eye, 30 to 40 nautical miles wide, moved over Great Exuma and San Salvador and the eye wall affected portions of Long Island, Rum Cay, and Cat Island.

Shortly thereafter, at 0000 UTC on the 20th and just east of the Bahamas, the hurricane reached its peak strength, with an estimated 100-knot maximum sustained wind and a central surface pressure of 960 mb. This is a category 3 on the Saffir/Simpson hurricane intensity scale and Lili is the sixth category 3 or higher hurricane in the Atlantic basin in 1996.

Lili continued moving northeastward, its center passing about 130 n mi southeast of Bermuda on the 20th. By now, the strongest winds were on the southeast side of the center and Bermuda's sustained winds did not reach tropical storm force. Lili's winds gradually decreased from the 100-knot maximum on the 20th to 65 knots on the 21st.

On the 22nd, having turned eastward, the forward motion decelerated to almost stationary as a mid-level short-wave high pressure ridge came into longitudinal phase with Lili. Lili drifted erratically eastward across the central north Atlantic until the 24th, when another acceleration toward the northeast began. Lili reintensified to 85 knots on the 25th and finally weakened to a tropical storm on the 26th, as the center was passing about 300 n mi northwest of the Azores. Lili is estimated to have become extratropical on the 27th. It remained a 55-knot extratropical storm until crossing Great Britain on the 28th. Its remnants crossed the northern European mainland on the 29th.

b. Meteorological Statistics

Figures 2 and 3 show curves of minimum sea-level pressure and maximum one-minute surface wind speed, respectively, as a function of time. Satellite data plotted in these figures is based on the Dvorak satellite intensity estimating technique as applied at the Tropical Analysis and Forecast Branch (TAFB), the Satellite Analysis Branch (SAB) and the U.S. Air Force Global Weather Center (AFGWC).

Aircraft data is from eleven aircraft reconnaissance missions into Lili over a five-day period, from the 15th to the 20th, resulting in 37 center penetrations. Seven of the missions were performed by the U.S. Air Force Reserve Unit out of Keesler AFB, Mississippi. The other four missions were performed by the NOAA research aircraft when Lili's center was near Cuba. The maximum wind speed measured by aircraft was 112 knots at the 700 mb level, at 0855 UTC on the 19th in the southeast quadrant. The minimum surface pressure from the aircraft was 960 millibar at 1218 UTC on the 19th.

Table 2 lists a selection of significant surface observations. The highest sustained wind from Cuba was a 10-minute average of 80 knots reported from Cayo Largo del Sur, an island located about 50 nautical miles east of the Isle of Youth. The center was over mainland Cuba and about 40 nautical miles north of the island at the time of the report. An 80-knot 10-minute wind was also reported from San Salvador in the central Bahamas at the time that the center was located about 15 nautical miles to its north-northwest.

Table 3 lists selected ship reports of winds greater than 33 knots that were caused by Lili. Two hours after the report from San Salvador, at 1200 UTC on the19th, a ship with call sign ZCBC3 reported an estimated wind speed of 99 knots, while located about 20 nautical miles south of the center. The 112-knot aircraft wind was measured only a few hours earlier and the hurricane's estimated maximum sustained wind speed of 100 knots is based on these measurements.

There was heavy rainfall over portions of Cuba with over 26 inches accumulated at La Moza.

Sustained wind speeds to about 45 knots with gusts to as high as 78 knots (from Alderney, a Channel island) were reported from Great Britain, when Lili was extratropical, on the 28th and 29th.

c. Casualty and Damage Statistics

During the formative state of the tropical cyclone, heavy rain occured over portions of Central America. The Associated Press reported five drowning deaths in Honduras and three deaths in Costa Rico. In addition, thousands were left homeless in both of these countries and there was flooding in Nicaragua as well.

In Cuba, there was extensive damage to agriculture and thousands were made homeless according to Reuters news. Reuters also reported that six were killed in Great Britain from Lili as an extratropical storm. Four died in traffic accidents and two fishermen were swept into the sea.

In the Bahamas, reports from Georgetown on Great Exuma island suggest that many houses were substantially damaged and many boats were sunk. A storm tide of 15 feet above mean sea level was estimated on the north side of Great Exuma.

d. Forecast and Warning Critique

Table 4 lists the various watches and warnings along with their issuance times. Hurricane warnings were issued for the Isle of Youth, Cuba, almost 24 hours before hurricane conditions began. The lead time for the mainland Cuba landfall was 30 hours. The hurricane warning lead time for the central Bahamas was somewhat less...15 to 18 hours. The hurricane watch was issued for Cuba 52 hours before the center reached the Isle of Youth and Lili was only a tropical depression at the time of issuance.

The average official track forecast errors for Lili, in nautical miles, ranged from 57 at 12 hours, 88 at 24 hours, 119 at 36 hours, 142 at 48 hours, to 200 at 72 hours. The 12-hour official errors are larger than the previous 10-year average and the rest are smaller, considerably so at 48 and 72 hours, than the previous 10-year averages.

Once again, a good track forecast performance is attributed to excellent numerical model guidance. For example, the looping motion on the 16th followed by another wobble on the 17th were both forecast by the 0000 UTC GFDL model run on the 16th. Another point of interest is at 1200 UTC on the 18th, when the center had just made landfall in Cuba and was accelerating in the general direction of southeast Florida and perhaps less than 24 hours away. No warnings were issued for the Miami and Fort Lauderdale metropolitan areas and this was possible because of the confidence in the guidance models which showed the hurricane turning northeastward and missing south Florida. Tropical storm warnings were issued for the Florida Keys however and Table 2 shows that sustained winds did not quite reach tropical storm force there.

The GFDL model absolute wind speed forecast errors at 72 hours averaged 11 knots for 16 cases during Lili. This is considerably smaller that the 1995 average GFDL error at 72 hours of 20 knots and is also smaller than the average official error of 22 knots for the same 16 Lili cases.

Table 1. Best track, Hurricane Lili, 14 - 27 October 1996.
Position Pressure
Wind Speed
Lat. (°N)Lon. (°W)
14/120012.880.4100625 tropical depression
1800 13.480.9100525"
060017.583.899835tropical storm
180042.333.298060tropical storm
29/000054.01.0 (E)97655"
19/120024.474.0960100 minimum pressure
20/120029.665.096085 minimum pressure
landfall on the Zapata Peninsula in Matanzas Province, Cuba:
The center also passed over the eastern tip of the Isle of Youth, Cuba at 18/0100 UTC. In the Bahamas, on the 19th, between 0600-1200 UTC, the center passed over Great Exuma and San Salvador and very near Long Island, Rum Cay, and Cat Island.

Table 2. Hurricane Lili selected surface observations, October 1996.
wind(kt) a
(UTC) b
surge(ft) c
tide(ft) d
Abreus, Guillermo Moncada        23.49
Agramonte, Union de Reyes Limonar        12.85
Cayo Largo del Sur986.118/105080 (10 min) 10418/1050   
Jucaro  40 (10 min)50 18/1945  9.06
Cienfuegos   9518/1550    
Guines        8.84
Havana  30 (10 min)42 18/1050   
La Moza        26.04
Nueva Gerona, Isle of Youth  60 (10 min) 7018/0448   
Punta del Este, Isle of Youth97718/0200       
Santo Domingo   97 18/1855   
Trinidad        21.20
Virgen del Camino        6.97
Dry Tortugas DRYF11005.418/200022 (2 min)26 18/1800   
Key West1003.518/2053182218/1904   1.61
Molasses Reef MLRF11003.118/220022 (2 min) 26 18/1500   
Sand Key SANF11003.518/200026 (2 min)33 18/1100   
Sobrero Key SMKF11003.418/200027 (2 min)33 18/1400   
Lee Stocking Island airport e   35 (60 min)53     
Lee Stocking Island hill e    41 (60 min)61     
San Salvador963.519/100080 (10 min)  19/1000   
Warderick Wells e  39 (60 min) 45    

a Averaging period is 1 min. unless otherwise indicated.

b Date/time is for sustained wind when both sustained and gust are given.

c Storm surge is water height above normal astronomical tide level.

d Storm tide is water height above National Geodetic Vertical Datum.

e Courtesy of the Caribbean Marine Research Center.

Table 3. Selected Ship reports of 34 knots or higher wind speed, associated with Hurricane Lili, October 1996.
ship namelatitude
wind dir/
speed (knots)

Table 4. Watch and warning summary, Hurricane Lili, October 1996.
15/2100hurricane watch Cuba: provinces of Pinar del Rio and Havana and Isle of Youth
16/0300tropical storm warning Mexico: Yucatan Peninsula from Isla Mujeres to Bahia de Chetumal
16/0600tropical storm warning Mexico: Yucatan Peninsula from cabo Catoche to Bahia de Chetumal
16/1200tropical storm warning Cayman Islands
16/1500 hurricane watch and tropical storm warning Cuba: provinces of Pinar del Rio, Havana, Matanzas, Villa Clara, and Cienfuegos and Isle of Youth
17/0300 hurricane warning Cuba: provinces of Pinar del Rio, Havana, Matanzas, Villa Clara, and Cienfuegos and Isle of Youth
17/0900 tropical storm warning discontinued Mexico: Yucatan Peninsula from cabo Catoche to Bahia de Chetumal
17/1045hurricane watch and tropical storm warning Cayman Islands
17/1500hurricane warning Cuba: provinces of Camaguey, Ciego de Avila, and Sancti Spiritus
17/2100tropical storm warning Florida Keys from Key Largo to Dry Tortugas including Florida Bay
hurricane watchNorthwest Bahamas
watch and warning discontinuedCayman Islands
18/0900hurricane warning northwest Bahamas
hurricane watchcentral Bahamas
18/1500hurricane warning central Bahamas
hurricane warning discontinued Cuba: Isle of Youth
18/1800 hurricane warning discontinued Cuba: from Havana westward
tropical storm warning discontinued Florida Keys and Florida Bay
19/0300hurricane warning discontinued northwest Bahama Islands of Grand Bahama, Abaco, and Bimini
19/0500tropical storm warning southeast Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands
19/0600hurricane warning discontinued All of Cuba
19/1200hurricane warning discontinued northwest Bahamas
19/1800all warnings discontinued all of Bahamas

Brian Maher
Jack Beven

Last updated December 29, 1998