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Tropical Cyclone Report

Hurricane Fabian

27 August - 8 September 2003

Richard J. Pasch, Eric S. Blake, and Daniel P. Brown
National Hurricane Center
19 November 2003
Revised: 5 January 2004

Fabian was a long-lived, powerful Cape Verde hurricane that struck Bermuda with category three intensity. It caused extensive damage on that island, where it was reported to be the worst hurricane since 1926.

a. Synoptic History

Fabian's genesis can be traced back to a vigorous tropical wave that emerged from western Africa on 25 August, and moved westward through the Cape Verde Islands a day later. By 27 August, the deep convection associated with the system became more consolidated in a circular area, and it is estimated that a tropical depression formed at 1800 UTC, centered about 365 n mi west of the Cape Verde Islands. Fabian's path is shown in Figure 1, and time series of the tropical cyclone's maximum sustained wind and minimum central pressure are displayed in Figure 2 and Figure 3, respectively. The best track positions and intensities are listed in Table 1. With a favorable atmospheric and oceanic environment (characterized by vertical shear from 850 to 200 mb of 5-10 kt or less, sea surface temperatures near 27.5°C), the tropical cyclone strengthened fairly steadily and became a tropical storm around 1200 UTC 28 August, and a hurricane by 0000 UTC 30 August over the east-central tropical Atlantic. Fabian reached its estimated peak intensity of 125 kt at 1800 UTC 1 September when it was centered about 265 n mi east-northeast of the northern Leeward Islands. This hurricane maintained Category 3 or Category 4 intensity on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale for almost a week.

Fabian was steered on a westward to west-northwestward heading for several days by deep easterlies to the south of a subtropical ridge. The forward speed gradually slowed from 18-19 kt just after genesis to less than 10 kt by 2 September, as the tropical cyclone neared a weakness in the subtropical ridge produced by a mid-level cyclonic circulation over the southwestern North Atlantic. Then, the hurricane turned toward the northwest while continuing to decelerate over the next couple of days. A large mid-tropospheric trough nearing the east coast of the United States provided a more northward steering flow, and Fabian turned north-northwestward to northward with increasing forward speed. Fabian targeted Bermuda, and struck that island with an intensity close to 100 kt. The eastern eyewall of the hurricane moved over Bermuda around 2000 UTC on 5 September. Observers on the western end of the island reported a brief interlude of blue sky and winds decreasing to 50-60 kt at various times between 1945 and 2115 UTC, which indicates that they were in the eastern fringes of Fabian's eye. The center of Fabian did not make landfall. However, since the eyewall passed over Bermuda, the hurricane made a direct hit on that island.

After raking Bermuda, the hurricane accelerated north-northeastward and northeastward, weakening to below 100 kt after 1800 UTC 6 September. Fabian lost its tropical characteristics on 8 September while located about 700 n mi east-northeast of Cape Race, Newfoundland. It turned northward the next day and merged with another extratropical cyclone between southern Greenland and Iceland.

b. Meteorological Statistics

Observations in Fabian (Figure 2 and Figure 3) include satellite-based Dvorak technique intensity estimates from the Tropical Analysis and Forecast Branch (TAFB), the Satellite Analysis Branch (SAB) and the U. S. Air Force Weather Agency (AFWA), as well as flight-level and dropwindsonde observations from flights of the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron of the U. S. Air Force Reserve Command (AFRES) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Fabian's peak intensity is estimated to be 125 kt, based on a 700 mb flight-level wind of 140 kt measured by AFRES around 1917 UTC 1 September. A minimum central pressure of 942 mb was measured at that time. A lower central pressure of 939 mb was measured by NOAA at 2245 UTC 3 September, but maximum flight-level winds around that time only supported an intensity of 115 kt.

Surface observations in Hurricane Fabian, all from Bermuda, are listed in Table 2. A sustained (10 min average) wind speed of 105 kt and a gust to 131 kt were measured by Cable and Wireless at an elevation of 280 ft above sea level. Sustained 104 kt winds, with gusts to 127 kt, were observed at Warwick Tower at an elevation of 220 ft above ground level. Sustained winds of 102 kt with a gust to 143 kt were measured by Bermuda Harbor Radio at an elevation of 255 ft above sea level. Since these observations are unofficial and at elevations significantly higher than 10 m, it is difficult to use them to make an accurate assessment of the hurricane's strength when it hit Bermuda. They are, however, not inconsistent with category three intensity. Unfortunately, due to a loss of power, the official wind measurements from the Bermuda Airport (TXKF) anemometer ended at 1935 UTC 5 September, and the extreme sustained and gust wind speed values were estimated. Ship and drifting buoy reports of winds of tropical storm force associated with Fabian are given in Table 3.

c. Casualty and Damage Statistics

Fabian was directly responsible for eight fatalities. A man drowned in a rip current near Cape Hatteras on 4 September. Four people drowned when they, and their vehicles, were swept off of a causeway in Bermuda on 5 September. Three fishermen drowned when their vessel sank about 350 n mi southeast of St. John's, Newfoundland on 7 September.

Bermuda was hit hard by Fabian. There was extensive damage to vegetation and considerable roof damage to houses in exposed locations. Some buildings had more severe damage, due to inherent structural weakness in some cases and possibly due to tornadoes (which were not confirmed) in others. There were huge (estimated 20 to 30 ft high) battering waves on the south shore of the island, with the reported storm surge estimated near 10 ft. Significant structural damage was inflicted as a result of wave action and/or surge. Property damage in Bermuda is estimated to be at least 300 million U.S. dollars.

d. Forecast and Warning Critique

In comparison to the long-term average, Fabian's track was well predicted in most cases. Average official track errors (with the number of cases in parentheses) for Fabian were 25 (46), 45 (44), 64 (42), 83 (40), 114 (36), 136 (32), and 206 (28) n mi for the 12, 24, 36, 48, 72, 96, and 120 h forecasts, respectively1. These errors are considerably (40-50%) lower than the average official track errors for the 10-yr period 1993-20022 of 45, 81, 116, 150, 225, 282, and 374, respectively. Overall, the official forecasts were slightly slow with somewhat of a westward bias. Table 4 lists the average forecast errors for the various track prediction models and model consensus for comparison with the official forecast errors. In general the official forecasts had lower average track errors than any of the individual models. However, the GUNS and GUNA consensus had average errors that were a little lower than, or the same as, the official forecasts at hours 12 through 72.

Average official intensity errors for Fabian were 4, 7, 10, 13, 18, 20, and 21 kt for the 12, 24, 36, 48, 72, 96, and 120 h forecasts, respectively. For comparison, the average official intensity errors over the 10-yr period 1993-2002 are 6, 10, 13, 15, 19, 21, and 22 kt, respectively. Thus the intensity forecasts for Fabian were about the same as the recent historical averages.

Table 5 lists the watches and warnings, all for Bermuda, associated with Hurricane Fabian. A hurricane watch was issued 35 h before Fabian's closest approach, and a hurricane warning was issued 29 h before Fabian's closest approach.

Acknowledgements

We thank Roger Williams, director of the Bermuda Meteorological Service, for providing meteorological observations and the information on Fabian's impact on Bermuda.

1All forecast verifications in this report include the depression stage of the cyclone. National Hurricane Center verifications presented in these reports prior to 2003 did not include the depression stage.

2 Errors given for the 96 and 120 h periods are averages over the two-year period 2001-2002.



Table 1: Best track for Hurricane Fabian, 27 August-8 September 2003.
Date/Time
(UTC)
PositionPressure
(mb)
Wind Speed
(kt)
Stage
Lat.
(°N)
Lon.
(°W)
 27 / 1800 14.6 30.7 1009 25 tropical depression
 28 / 0000 14.7 32.3 1008 30 "
 28 / 0600 14.9 34.2 1008 30 "
 28 / 1200 15.0 36.2 1006 35 tropical storm
 28 / 1800 15.1 38.2 1004 40 "
 29 / 0000 15.2 40.1 1000 45 "
 29 / 0600 15.4 41.8 997 50 "
 29 / 1200 15.5 43.1 997 50 "
 29 / 1800 15.8 44.3 990 60 "
 30 / 0000 16.3 45.6 987 65 hurricane
 30 / 0600 16.7 46.9 984 70 "
 30 / 1200 17.0 48.0 973 85 "
 30 / 1800 17.3 49.2 960 100 "
 31 / 0000 17.6 50.3 952 110 "
 31 / 0600 17.8 51.4 952 110 "
 31 / 1200 18.0 52.5 952 110 "
 31 / 1800 18.2 53.5 948 115 "
 01 / 0000 18.3 54.3 945 120 "
 01 / 0600 18.5 55.3 949 120 "
 01 / 1200 18.7 56.3 949 120 "
 01 / 1800 19.0 57.3 944 125 "
 02 / 0000 19.3 58.3 943 125 "
 02 / 0600 19.6 59.2 945 120 "
 02 / 1200 20.1 59.9 945 120 "
 02 / 1800 20.5 60.7 946 120 "
 03 / 0000 20.9 61.3 945 115 "
 03 / 0600 21.3 61.8 945 110 "
 03 / 1200 21.9 62.3 945 110 "
 03 / 1800 22.5 62.8 944 110 "
 04 / 0000 23.2 63.0 939 115 "
 04 / 0600 23.8 63.3 944 105 "
 04 / 1200 24.8 63.8 944 105 "
 04 / 1800 25.8 64.3 941 110 "
 05 / 0000 27.1 64.6 940 115 "
 05 / 0600 28.6 65.1 946 105 "
 05 / 1200 30.1 65.3 951 105 "
 05 / 1800 31.8 65.3 950 105 "
 06 / 0000 33.4 64.7 953 100 "
 06 / 0600 34.9 64.0 956 100 "
 06 / 1200 36.0 62.4 957 100 "
 06 / 1800 36.9 60.4 958 100 "
 07 / 0000 37.9 58.2 962 90 "
 07 / 0600 39.1 55.7 965 85 "
 07 / 1200 40.6 53.4 967 80 "
 07 / 1800 42.3 50.7 972 75 "
 08 / 0000 44.3 47.9 975 70 "
 08 / 0600 46.3 44.7 977 70 "
 08 / 1200 48.7 40.8 980 65 "
 08 / 1800 51.7 36.0 980 65 extratropical
 09 / 0000 54.0 32.0 980 60 "
 09 / 0600 56.0 29.0 982 50 "
 09 / 1200 58.0 27.0 982 50 "
 09 / 1800 60.0 27.0 990 40 "
 10 / 0000     absorbed
 01 / 1800 19.0 57.3 944 125 maximum intensity
 04 / 0000 23.2 63.0 939 115 minimum pressure
 05 / 2000 32.3 65.1 952 100 closest approach (12 n mi west) to Bermuda


Table 2: Selected surface observations for Hurricane Fabian, 5 September 2003.
Minimum
Sea-level
Pressure
Maximum Surface Wind Speed
(kt)
LocationDate/
Time
(UTC)
Press.
(mb)
Date/
Timea
(UTC)
Sust.
Windb
(kts)
Peak
Gust (kts)
Storm
Surgec
(ft)
Storm
Tided
(ft)
Rain
(storm total)
(in)
Bermuda
Bermuda Airport (TXKF)2030 964.0 2055 105e 130e   1.82f 
TXKF anemometer siteg  1927 72 102    
Cable and Wirelessh  1940 105 131    
Bermuda Harbour Radioi2050 961.0 1855 102 143    
Weatherbird (research vessel)j2048 961.0 1855 67 95    
Pitt's Bay (Hamilton)k2000 960.0       
Cambridge Beaches Hotell2100 953.0       
Southhamptonm2000 954.5       
Warwick Towern  1900 98 120    
Warwick Towero  1900 104 127    
aTime is for sustained wind.
bAveraging period is 10 min.
cStorm surge is water height above normal astronomical tide level.
dStorm tide is water height above National Geodetic Vertical Datum (1929 mean sea level).
eTXKF maximum winds estimated at weather service building 130 ft above sea level.
fRain data unreliable but total rainfall amounts were unlikely to exceed 3 in. Most observations reported only light rain and low visibility due to sea spray.
g Airfield anemometer 40 ft above sea level; power failed at mast base due to storm surge at 1935 UTC.
hInstrument height 280 ft above sea level.
iInstrument height 255 ft above sea level; mast fell down shortly after peak gust at 1935 UTC. Pressure from barograph trace.
jWind instrument not well exposed.
kVoluntary observer (barograph).
lWest end of Bermuda; pressure from barograph (time not calibrated).
mVoluntary observer; Davis Instruments.
nInstrument height 157 ft above ground level.
oInstrument height 220 ft above ground level.


Table 3: Available ship and drifting buoy reports with winds of at least 34 kt for Hurricane Fabian, 2003.
Ship Name or Call SignDate/Time (UTC)Lat.
(°N)
Lon.
(°W)
Wind dir/speed (deg/kt)Pressure (mb)
ELRU803 / 180020.659.4180 / 35 1014.5 
ELZU605 / 000029.061.7150 / 37 1014.0 
ELZU605 / 090030.963.0140 / 41 1010.0 
ELZU605 / 220034.366.1040 / 43 1003.0 
3FKD907 / 120038.451.1180 / 45 1007.3 
4455107 / 200043.545.7150 / 39 1006.1 
4455107 / 210043.545.7150 / 39 1003.2 
VEP71708 / 030046.748.7010 / 35 993.8 
3FPK708 / 030046.748.0320 / 36 990.7 
HP603808 / 030046.448.4040 / 40 990.9 
ELVX408 / 060043.040.8200 / 35 1011.0 
VEP71708 / 060046.748.7350 / 40 995.2 
3FPK708 / 060046.748.0340 / 37 992.7 
HP603808/ 060046.448.4310 / 41 993.6 
6271108 / 070047.345.8320 / 70 985.7 
6271108 / 080047.345.8350 / 45 985.5 
HP603808 / 090046.448.4290 / 36 1001.9 


Table 4: Preliminary forecast evaluation (heterogeneous sample) for Hurricane Fabian, 27 August-8 September 2003. Forecast errors (n mi) are followed by the number of forecasts in parentheses. Errors smaller than the NHC official forecast are shown in bold-face type. Verification includes the depression stage, but does not include the extratropical stage, if any.
Forecast TechniquePeriod (hours)
122436487296120
CLP534 (46) 78 (44) 114 (42) 155 (40) 253 (36) 351 (32) 413 (28) 
GFNI27 (38) 52 (37) 73 (35) 90 (33) 147 (30)   
GFDI26 (43) 49 (42) 71 (40) 96 (37) 159 (33) 197 (29) 261 (25) 
GFDL28 (45) 50 (43) 71 (41) 92 (38) 154 (34) 201 (30) 240 (26) 
LBAR31 (45) 68 (43) 99 (41) 132 (39) 219 (35) 315 (31) 422 (27) 
AVNI27 (44) 51 (42) 77 (40) 114 (38) 181 (34) 191 (30) 275 (24) 
AVNO32 (45) 55 (43) 77 (41) 109 (39) 177 (35) 207 (31) 250 (25) 
AEMI26 (24) 51 (22) 74 (21) 100 (20) 177 (18) 277 (13) 469 (11) 
BAMD31 (46) 62 (44) 88 (42) 112 (40) 193 (36) 260 (32) 356 (28) 
BAMM37 (46) 73 (44) 106 (42) 140 (40) 219 (36) 286 (32) 358 (28) 
BAMS50 (45) 99 (43) 143 (41) 181 (39) 259 (35) 315 (31) 380 (27) 
NGPI24 (42)46 (40) 73 (38) 98 (36) 156 (32) 220 (28) 274 (24) 
NGPS27 (43) 42 (41)66 (39) 93 (37) 149 (33) 216 (29) 268 (25) 
UKMI29 (44) 53 (42) 69 (40) 80 (38)103 (34)190 (30) 248 (26) 
UKM29 (23) 52 (22) 77 (21) 89 (20) 100 (18)171 (16) 229 (14) 
A98E32 (46) 61 (44) 102 (42) 144 (40) 248 (36) 327 (32) 403 (28) 
A9UK28 (23) 57 (22) 83 (21) 109 (20) 176 (18)   
GUNS19 (41)37 (40)55 (38)75 (35)109 (31)159 (27) 216 (23) 
GUNA19 (41)37 (40)56 (38)77 (35)114 (31) 144 (27) 211 (21) 
OFCL25 (46) 45 (44) 64 (42) 83 (40) 114 (36) 136 (32) 206 (28) 
NHC Official (1993-2002 mean)45 (2985) 81 (2726) 116 (2481) 150 (2230) 225 (1819) 282 (265) 374 (216) 


Table 5: Watch and warning summary for Hurricane Fabian, September 2003.
Date/TimeActionLocation
04 / 0900Hurricane WatchBermuda 
04 / 1500Hurricane WarningBermuda 
06 / 0300Hurricane Warning DiscontinuedBermuda 

Best track positions for Hurricane Fabian

Figure 1: Best track positions for Hurricane Fabian, August/September 2003. Track during the extratropical stage is based on analyses from the NOAA Ocean Prediction Center.

Selected wind observations and best track maximum sustained surface wind speed curve for Hurricane Fabian

Figure 2: Selected wind observations and best track maximum sustained surface wind speed curve for Hurricane Fabian, August/September 2003. Aircraft observations have been adjusted for elevation using 90%, 80%, and 80% reduction factors for observations from 700 mb, 850 mb, and 1500 ft, respectively. Dropwindsonde 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). Estimates during the extratropical stage are based on analyses from the NOAA Ocean Prediction Center.

Selected pressure observations and best track minimum central pressure curve for Hurricane Fabian

Figure 3: Selected pressure observations and best track minimum central pressure curve for Hurricane Fabian, August/September 2003. Objective Dvorak estimates represent linear averages over a three-hour period centered on the nominal observation time. Estimates during the extratropical stage are based on analyses from the NOAA Ocean Prediction Center.



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Page last modified: Monday, 07-Feb-2005 16:38:05 UTC