Tropical Cyclone Report
Hurricane Debby
19 - 24 August 2000

Richard J. Pasch
National Hurricane Center
8 December 2000

Debby struck the islands of the northeast Caribbean as a 65-knot hurricane, but the impact was not very significant. It appeared that Debby was going to be a significant threat to south Florida, but the system dissipated rather unexpectedly.

a. Synoptic History

A strong tropical wave moved off the west coast of Africa on 16 August, accompanied by winds to near 50 kt at the 650 mb level over Dakar. The following day, a broad area of low pressure associated with this wave was noted in the vicinity of 10N 30W, but there was insufficient curvature in the associated bands of deep convection for a Dvorak classification of the system. A low-level circulation center was identified by the Tropical Analysis and Forecast Branch (TAFB) at 0000 UTC 18 August, but the system was still considered "too weak to classify". An initial classification was done by TAFB at 1145 UTC on the 18th. By that time the curvature of the convective bands had increased, however the system was still broad and poorly organized. As the disturbance continued westward around 15 kt, it gradually became better organized. By 1800 UTC 19 August the cloud pattern had become consolidated around a well-defined center and it is estimated that the fourth tropical depression of the season developed, about 900 n mi east of the Windward Islands (Table 1, Figure 1).

Vertical shear was weak over the area, with anticyclonic outflow developing aloft. In this environment, the cyclone strengthened and became Tropical Storm Debby around 0600 UTC 20 August. A pronounced mid-level ridge to the north of the cyclone maintained a west-northwestward motion. By midday on the 20th, microwave imagery data began to suggest some southwesterly shearing over Debby, with the low-level center displaced a bit to the southwest of the mid- to upper-level center. Nonetheless the storm strengthened further and is estimated to have become a hurricane by 0600 UTC 21 August. By this time the infrared imagery also showed the signature of a sheared system. Even though Debby was not well organized it strengthened even further, and reconnaissance data indicated that its maximum winds increased to 75 knots, which was the peak intensity, a little later on the 21st.

Radiosonde data from the Lesser Antilles indicated that the southwesterly shearing may initially have been due to strong lower-tropospheric easterly flow, with the low-level center "outrunning" the mid- to upper-level center. By late on 21 August, the strengthening ceased. Debby was a 65-knot hurricane when its center moved across the extreme northern Leeward Islands from 0600 to 1200 UTC on the 22nd. Continuing west-northwestward, Debby's center moved over the British Virgin Islands around 1500 UTC on the 22nd, and passed about 30 n mi off the northeast coast of Puerto Rico a few hours later. By early on the 23rd, southwesterly shearing over Debby increased (dropsonde data from a two-aircraft synoptic flow mission revealed that upper-tropospheric flow was now largely responsible). Although not well organized, the system maintained minimal hurricane strength until around 1200 UTC on the 23rd when the cloud pattern became even more disorganized-looking.

The weakening storm turned toward the west and moved along the northern coast of Hispaniola. Although the mountainous land mass of that island may have played some role in the weakening by restricting inflow from the south and disrupting the southern part of the cyclone's circulation, it appears that vertical shear was the main cause for weakening. Around midday on the 23rd, a distinct low-cloud circulation center was evident just to the north of Hispaniola, displaced well to the west of the main area of deep convection. The cyclone continued westward, entering the Windward Passage around 0000 UTC 24 August. It dissipated near the south coast of eastern Cuba on the morning of the 24th. Debby's remnant, a strong tropical wave, continued to track westward, spreading locally heavy showers and gusty winds over Cuba, the Straits of Florida, and southern Florida over the next couple of days.

b. Meteorological Statistics

Table 1 lists the best track positions and intensities of Debby at six-hourly intervals. Figure 1 is a display of this track. Figure 2 and Figure 3 depict the curves of maximum one-minute average "surface" (10 m above ground level) wind speed and minimum central sea-level pressure, respectively, as a function of time. Also plotted are the observations on which the curves are based. These consist of measurements by reconnaissance aircraft, Global Positioning System (GPS) dropsondes, Dvorak-technique estimates using satellite imagery from the Tropical Analysis and Forecast Branch (TAFB), the Satellite Analysis Branch (SAB), and the U.S. Air Force Weather Agency (AFWA).

Debby's peak intensity of 75 kt on 21 August is based on 85% of the maximum 1500-ft flight level wind speed, 88 kt, measured by aerial reconnaissance. Interestingly, the minimum central pressure was about 1004 mb at that time, well above the values typically associated with even minimal hurricane intensity. A central pressure of 991 mb was measured about 12 hours after the occurrence of Debby's estimated peak winds.

Wind gusts to 48 kt were reported at Antigua late on 21 August during the passage of a band of convection in advance of Debby. Maximum sustained winds there were only 25 kt. At St. Barthelemy, a gust to 66 kt was reported at 0830 UTC on the 22nd (that station was in the eye at 0915 UTC), and at St. Maarten, sustained winds of 33 kt with gusts to 52 kt were reported at 0900 UTC, with a minimum pressure of 998 mb at 1000 UTC. There were no measurements of sustained tropical storm force winds from the U.S. Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico, however, wind gusts of 39 and 37 kt were reported from St. Thomas and St. Croix, respectively, on 22 August.

Rainfall totals were as high as 12.63 in at Rio Piedras and 10.28 in at Rio de la Plata, Puerto Rico. These heavy rains occurred mainly after the center of Debby had moved northwest of the island.

c. Casualty and Damage Statistics

A man died in Puerto Rico when he fell off the roof of his home while trying to remove a satellite antenna. This was an indirect fatality.

There was moderate damage to the roofs of a few structures in Barbuda. There, and in several of the other islands of the extreme northern Leewards, some damage to fruit trees, utility poles and lines took place. Overall, the damage did not appear to be severe, but there are no monetary estimates available.

In Puerto Rico, the main impact came from heavy rainfall. There were reports of mud slides and damaged or collapsed bridges. Over 400 homes were reportedly "affected" by flood waters. Five homes suffered moderate to severe structural damage. Total damage estimate is 0.5 million dollars.

There was also some damage due to storm surge and wave action along the northern coast of the Dominican Republic.

Debby's rains were beneficial over eastern Cuba, since that region had been suffering from a severe drought.

d. Forecast and Warning Critique

Table 2 lists the average track prediction errors for Debby, for a selection of the numerical models and for the official forecast, as well as the long-term averages of the latter. The average official track forecast errors were lower than the most recent ten-year averages. The average official forecast errors for Debby are generally of comparable magnitude to, or below, the corresponding average model errors. It should be added, however, that several of the official and model forecasts having a northward bias were not verified because of Debby's unpredicted dissipation.

The numerical track predictions for 0000 UTC 23 August are of particular interest, since GPS dropsonde data from a two-aircraft synoptic flow surveillance mission appeared to have a significant impact on some of the models. In comparison to earlier forecasts, there was a significant southward shift in the model tracks. This was particularly noticeable in the U.K. Met. Office global model (UKM), whose 72-h forecast shifted from near or just east of Florida, to near western Cuba. Dropsonde measurements of the steering flow around the above time showed that there was a strong mid-level anticyclone to the north of Debby, and that a trough was bypassing the hurricane. It should be added that later sensitivity runs of the UKM from the above initial time, with and without the dropsonde input, confirmed that the track forecast improvements were attributable to these data.

The Debby case reminds us, all too well, of our limitations in forecasting tropical cyclone intensity change. In spite of the sheared nature of the system, the GFDL model repeatedly predicted that Debby would reach southern Florida area with a central pressure corresponding to a major hurricane. Moreover, the best available intensity guidance, SHIPS, consistently forecasted Debby to intensify (even when it was apparent that the tropical cyclone was dissipating). Given the objective guidance, and the possibility that the vertical shear could diminish, the official forecasts mostly over-predicted the wind speeds. The average bias in the official intensity forecasts ranged from +5.8 knots at 24 h to +28.0 knots at 72 h. These are similar to the biases shown by SHIPS.

Table 3 summarizes the various watches and warnings issued in connection with Debby. The hurricane warning for the northern Leeward Islands was issued 15 to 18 h prior to the arrival of the center in that area.

Watches and warnings are not always necessary to trigger preparedness actions. Based on the official 3-day forecasts which brought Debby near south Florida, an evacuation of non-residents from the Florida Keys was ordered, resulting in a significant loss of tourism revenue for Monroe County.

Table 1. Best track, Hurricane Debby, 19-24 August 2000.
Position Pressure
Wind Speed
Lat. (°N)Lon. (°W)
19 / 180012.0 44.51010 30tropical depression
20 / 000012.6 45.31010 30"
20 / 060013.3 46.81009 35tropical storm
20 / 120014.0 48.81008 40"
20 / 180014.7 50.61007 45"
21 / 000015.1 52.11006 55"
21 / 060015.4 54.01005 65hurricane
21 / 120015.7 56.31004 75"
21 / 180016.1 58.51004 75"
22 / 000016.8 60.1 995 70"
22 / 060017.5 61.7 993 65"
22 / 120018.1 63.5 994 65"
22 / 180018.8 65.4 995 65"
23 / 000019.2 66.7 995 65"
23 / 060019.5 68.1 995 65"
23 / 120019.8 69.71005 60tropical storm
23 / 180020.0 71.51009 50"
24 / 000019.9 73.31010 40"
24 / 060019.6 75.11011 35"
24 / 120019.5 77.01011 30tropical depression
24 / 1800 dissipated
21 / 120015.756.3100475maximum intensity
22 / 0300 17.1 60.9 99170minimum pressure
22 / 060017.561.799365landfall near Barbuda
22 / 091517.962.899365landfall near St. Barthelemy
22 / 150018.564.499465landfall near Virgin Gorda

Table 2. Preliminary forecast evaluation of Hurricane Debby, heterogeneous sample. (Errors in nautical miles for tropical storm and hurricane stages with number of forecasts in parenthesis).
Forecast Technique Period (hours)
AVNI54 (15) 82 (13)106 (11) 85 (9)37 (5)
CLIP48 (15) 91 (13)138 (11)172 (9)378 (5)
GFDI45 (15) 74 (13)100 (11)106 (9)145 (5)
NGPI43 (15) 80 (13)112 (11)138 (9)149 (5)
UKMI37 (14) 75 (12) 96 (10) 80 (8) 87 (5)
NHC OFFICIAL43 (15) 75 (13) 90 (11) 85 (9)132 (5)
NHC OFFICIAL 1990-1999 10-year average 46 (2057) 85 (1842)122 (1650)158 (1471)235 (1164)

Table 3. Watch and warning summary, Hurricane Debby, August 2000.
Action Location
20/2100Hurricane watch issuedSt. Maarten, Saba, and St. Eustatius
20/2100Tropical storm watch issuedAntigua, Barbuda, and Anguilla
21/0300Hurricane watch issuedU.S. Virgin Islands
21/0300Tropical storm watch issuedBritish Virgin Islands, St. Martin, St. Barthelemy, Nevis, St. Kitts, Montserrat, and Guadeloupe and its surrounding islands
21/0900 Hurricane watch issuedPuerto Rico
21/1500Hurricane warning issuedGuadeloupe northward and northwestward through the British and U.S. Virgin Islands
21/1500Tropical storm warning and hurricane watch issuedDominica
21/2100Hurricane warning issuedPuerto Rico and its adjacent islands
21/2300Tropical storm watch issuedDominican Republic
22/0300Hurricane watch issuedHaiti north of Port au Prince
22/0300Tropical storm warning issuedDominican Republic from Punta Palenque to Cabrera
22/0400Tropical storm watch issuedSoutheastern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands
22/0900Hurricane warning issuedNorthern coast of the Dominican Republic
22/0900Tropical storm watch changed to hurricane watchSoutheastern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands
22/1200Hurricane warning discontinuedGuadeloupe, Antigua, Barbuda, Nevis, St. Kitts, and Montserrat
22/1200Tropical storm warning discontinuedDominica
22/1500Hurricane warning issuedSoutheastern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands
22/1500Hurricane watch issuedCentral Bahamas
22/1500Hurricane warning discontinuedSt. Maarten, Saba, and St. Eustatius
22/2100Hurricane watch issuedNorthern coast of Cuba for the provinces of Holguin and Las Tunas
22/2100 Tropical storm warning issuedHaiti north of Port au Prince
22/2100Hurricane warning changed to tropical storm warningU.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico
22/2100Hurricane warning discontinuedAll islands east of the U.S. Virgin Islands
23/0300Tropical storm warning discontinuedU.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico
23/0600Hurricane warning issuedCentral Bahamas
23/0600Hurricane watch issuedNorthwestern Bahamas
23/1500Hurricane warning issuedNorthern coast of Cuba for the provinces of Guantanamo, Holguin, and Las Tunas
23/1500Hurricane watch issuedNorthern coast of Cuba for the provinces of Camaguay and Ciego de Avila and southern coast of Cuba for the provinces of Santiago de Cuba and Granma
23/1800Hurricane watch discontinuedHaiti north of Port au Prince
23/2100Hurricane warning changed to tropical storm warningCentral and Southeastern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands, northern coast of Cuba for the provinces of Guantanamo, Holguin, and Las Tunas
23/2100Hurricane watch changed to tropical storm watchNorthern coast of Cuba for the provinces of Camaguay and Ciego de Avila and southern coast of Cuba for the provinces of Santiago de Cuba and Granma
23/2100Hurricane warning discontinuedNorthern coast of the Dominican Republic
23/2100Hurricane watch discontinuedNorthwestern Bahamas
24/0300Tropical storm warning discontinuedHaiti, Turks and Caicos Islands
24/1000Tropical storm warning discontinuedCentral and southeastern Bahamas
24/1500All tropical storm watches and warnings discontinuedCuba

Figure 1. Best track for Hurricane Debby, 19-24 August 2000.

Figure 2. Best track maximum sustained surface wind speed curve for Hurricane Debby, 19-24 August 2000, and the observations on which the best track curve is based. Aircraft observations have been adjusted for elevation using 90%, 80%, and 85% reduction factors for observations from 700 mb, 850 mb, and 1500 ft, respectively. Dropsonde observations include actual 10 m winds (sfc), as well as surface estimates derived from the mean wind over the lowest 150 m of the wind sounding (LLM ) , and from the sounding boundary layer mean (MBL).

Figure 3. Best track minimum central pressure curve and central pressure observations or estimates for Hurricane Debby, 19-24 August 2000.


Last updated December 14, 2000