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Tropical Cyclone Report

Hurricane Gaston

27 August - 1 September 2004

James L. Franklin, Daniel P. Brown and Colin McAdie
National Hurricane Center
19 November 2004
Revised: 16 February 2005

Gaston was a category 1 hurricane that made landfall along the central South Carolina coast. After moving inland, Gaston produced heavy rainfall across portions of the Carolinas and Virginia. Flooding in the Richmond, Virginia metropolitan area resulted in 8 deaths.

a. Synoptic History

The genesis of Gaston can be traced to a cold front that moved off the coast of the Carolinas into the Atlantic on 22 August, and drifted southward the following day before stalling on 24 August. Surface observations indicate that a broad low formed along the weakening front on 25 August. Thunderstorm activity associated with the low remained sporadic and disorganized until late on 26 August, when the convective activity began to increase and acquire a more banded structure. Early morning visible and microwave satellite imagery on 27 August suggest that the low had developed into the seventh tropical depression of the season by 1200 UTC that day, about 115 n mi east-southeast of Charleston, South Carolina. It is of note that the frontal zone from which Gaston formed also initiated the development of Tropical Storm Hermine two days later.

The "best track" chart of Gaston's path is given in Figure 1, with the wind and pressure histories shown in Figure 2 and Figure 3, respectively. The best track positions and intensities are listed in Table 1. Steering currents were very weak initially and the depression drifted slowly southward. Convective banding continued to increase on 27 August and the depression slowly strengthened, becoming a tropical storm early the next day as it drifted westward about 130 n mi southeast of Charleston. Strengthening continued on 28 August, and the first reconnaissance aircraft to reach the cyclone found maximum flight level winds of 59 kt shortly after 1800 UTC.

Early on 29 August steering currents became better defined, with the development of a mid- to upper-level ridge northeast of Gaston and the approach of a mid-latitude trough into the Appalachians. This steering pattern allowed the tropical cyclone to begin moving northwestward toward the South Carolina coast, and the forward motion of the cyclone increased from about 3 kt to 7 kt between 0000 UTC and 1200 UTC 29 August. Radar and satellite imagery showed that Gaston continued to get better organized as it approached the coast. Doppler radar observations indicate that Gaston reached hurricane strength just before it made landfall near Awendaw, South Carolina, between Charleston and McClellanville, around 1400 UTC 29 August, with maximum sustained winds estimated near 65 kt. The tropical cyclone then steadily weakened while moving northward across northeastern South Carolina.

At 0000 UTC 30 August Gaston weakened to a tropical depression over northeastern South Carolina. Gaston then turned north-northeastward ahead of the trough moving into the eastern United States and the cyclone crossed eastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia during the day. Data from the Chesapeake Light C-MAN site and a ship near the mouth of Chesapeake Bay indicated that Gaston had regained tropical storm strength by 0000 UTC 31 August, while the center was still inland near Yorktown, Virginia. Tropical storm force winds at this time were confined to a small area over water southeast of the center; however, the primary impact of Gaston in Virginia was flooding produced by 6-12 in rains that occurred over about an 8 h period.

Gaston moved across the southern portion of Chesapeake Bay and crossed the Delmarva Peninsula shortly before 0600 UTC 31 August. The tropical cyclone then accelerated northeastward, passing about 60 n mi south of Nantucket Island, Massachusetts later that day. Gaston strengthened slightly as it continued to accelerate to the east-northeast, before becoming extratropical south of the Canadian Maritimes at 1200 UTC 1 September. The extratropical remnants of Gaston were finally absorbed by a larger extratropical system on 3 September about 750 n mi south-southeast of Reykjavik, Iceland.

b. Meteorological Statistics

Observations in Gaston (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. Microwave satellite imagery from NOAA polar-orbiting satellites, the NASA Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM), the NASA QuikSCAT, and Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) satellites were also useful in tracking Gaston. Ship reports of tropical storm force winds associated with Gaston are given in Table 2, and selected surface observations from land stations and data buoys are given in Table 3.

Gaston was strengthening up until landfall, and was operationally assessed to be a strong tropical storm when it crossed the coast. Unfortunately, no reconnaissance data were available in these last hours. However, a post analysis of Doppler velocity data from the Charleston and Wilmington NWS radars shows that Gaston had winds aloft that support a reclassification to a hurricane. The Wilmington radar observed a roughly 3 n mi wide patch of average winds of 71 kt or more in the southeast quadrant between 1130 and 1200 UTC on 29 August. These winds were observed at an altitude of about 11000 ft, and would correspond to roughly 64 kt at the surface using standard adjustment factors. The Charleston radar observed a similarly-sized area in the northwest quadrant that also supports 64 kt surface winds. Neither radar had a good look at the northeast quadrant, where the strongest winds would have been expected. Based on these observations, Gaston has been posthumously upgraded to a hurricane.

No land-based observations support hurricane force surface winds, although the area was not particularly well-sampled. A gust to 71 kt was recorded by a Carolinas Coastal Ocean Observing and Prediction System station just south of Capers Island, South Carolina, with minimum pressure of 985.1 mb. A gust to 70 kt was recorded by a storm chaser on the Isle of Palms. The highest surge report was over 4 ft inside of Bulls Bay.

In South Carolina, rainfall was heaviest in a swath from Berkeley and western Williamsburg counties through Florence and Darlington counties. Kingstree reported 10.5 in of rainfall, which produced urban flooding of up to 5 ft. Radar data suggest that up to 15 in may have fallen in some areas. Flash floods occurred in Lake City. One F1 tornado was reported in Marlboro county South Carolina. Rains tapered off somewhat as Gaston moved through North Carolina, with accumulations there being generally less than 6 in. Two tornados were confirmed in North Carolina on 29 August: an F0 in Scotland County and an unrated tornado in Hoke County.

Gaston produced very heavy rains and flash floods as it moved through southeastern Virginia on 30 August, with the most severe conditions in the Richmond metropolitan area. Two locations in Richmond reported over 12 in of rain (Table 3). Most of this rain occurred during an eight hour period late on 30 August. The cyclone also produced a dozen F0 tornadoes in eastern Virginia.

c. Casualty and Damage Statistics

Flash floods in the Richmond area directly resulted in 8 fatalities. Five of these were from motorists attempting to drive through flooded roadways, including one who drove around a barricade to do so. Three individuals were killed during rescue attempts. One indirect death was also reported.

Major fresh-water flooding occurred in South Carolina. In Berkeley County, 20 structures were severely damaged or destroyed, and dozens of other structures suffered minor flooding damage. Winds associated with Gaston caused minor damage to roughly 3000 structures in Charleston, Berkeley, and Dorchester counties. Downed tree limbs resulted in scattered power outages.

In Virginia, Gaston washed out roads and bridges. Damage was concentrated in Chesterfield, Dinwiddie, Hanover, Henrico, and Prince George counties. About 350 homes and 230 businesses were either damaged or destroyed. Tornadoes mostly downed trees, but several roofs were also damaged.

The American Insurance Services Group reports $65 million in insured losses associated with Gaston in South Carolina ($20M), North Carolina ($15M), and Virginia ($30M). Total damage is estimated to be near $130 million.

d. Forecast and Warning Critique

Average official track errors for Gaston are given in Table 4. These errors were generally smaller than the long-term averages. The official errors were also generally lower than the errors of the best dynamical guidance models and very close to the errors of the GUNA, CONU, and FSSE consensus models.

Average official intensity errors were 8, 13, 12, 7, 5, and 10 kt for the 12, 24, 36, 48, 72, and 96 h forecasts, respectively. For comparison, the average official intensity errors over the 10-yr period 1994-2003[1] are 6, 10, 12, 15, 19, and 20 kt, respectively. Although the errors are not particularly large, early forecasts did not anticipate that Gaston would become a hurricane, and as a result a hurricane warning was issued only about 14 h prior to landfall. A tropical storm warning was first issued at 1500 UTC 28 August; Gaston made landfall roughly in the center of the warning area 23 h later. The complete set of watches and warnings associated with Gaston are listed in Table 5. No coastal warnings were issued when Gaston re-strengthened to a tropical storm over Virginia because the tropical storm force winds were expected to remain exclusively over water.

Acknowledgements

Landfall observations, as well as damage and casualty information, were compiled and provided by the NWS/Weather Forecast Offices in Charleston, SC, Wilmington, NC, Jacksonville, FL, and Wakefield, VA.

[1]Errors given for the 96 and 120 h periods are averages over the three years 2001-2003.



Table 1: Best track for Hurricane Gaston, 27 Aug. - 1 Sept. 2004.
Date/Time
(UTC)
PositionPressure
(mb)
Wind Speed
(kt)
Stage
Lat.
(°N)
Lon.
(°W)
 27 / 1200 31.8 78.1 1015 25 tropical depression
 27 / 1800 31.6 78.0 1014 25 "
 28 / 0000 31.4 78.0 1011 30 "
 28 / 0600 31.3 78.2 1005 35 tropical storm
 28 / 1200 31.3 78.5 1000 45 "
 28 / 1800 31.3 78.8 997 50 "
 29 / 0000 31.5 79.1 994 55 "
 29 / 0600 32.1 79.4 991 60 "
 29 / 1200 32.8 79.5 986 65 hurricane
 29 / 1800 33.5 79.6 992 45 tropical storm
 30 / 0000 34.2 79.4 995 30 tropical depression
 30 / 0600 34.9 79.1 998 30 "
 30 / 1200 35.6 78.7 1000 25 "
 30 / 1800 36.4 77.8 1002 30 "
 31 / 0000 37.2 76.6 1001 35 tropical storm
 31 / 0600 38.1 74.8 1001 35 "
 31 / 1200 39.1 72.9 1001 35 "
 31 / 1800 40.2 70.5 999 35 "
 01 / 0000 41.0 67.5 999 40 "
 01 / 0600 41.7 63.5 999 45 "
 01 / 1200 43.0 59.6 999 45 extratropical
 01 / 1800 45.0 55.0 998 45 "
 02 / 0000 47.0 50.0 997 45 "
 02 / 0600 48.5 44.0 996 45 "
 02 / 1200 50.0 38.0 994 45 "
 02 / 1800 51.1 32.0 994 40 "
 03 / 0000 52.0 28.9 998 35 "
 03 / 0600     absorbed by extratropical low
 29 / 1400 33.0 79.6 985 65 landfall near Awendaw, S.C.
 29 / 1400 33.0 79.6 985 65 minimum pressure


Table 2: Selected ship reports with winds of at least 34 kt for Hurricane Gaston, 27 Aug. - 1 Sept. 2004.
Ship Name or Call SignDate/Time (UTC)Lat.
(°N)
Lon.
(°W)
Wind dir/speed (deg/kt)Pressure (mb)
A8DO729 / 030031.579.8310 / 41 1006.0 
KRHX29 / 090031.979.6270 / 38 1003.0 
VRCV29 / 180032.879.0210 / 36 1006.7 
OXKO230 / 120033.976.6200 / 35 1016.3 
H9YY31 / 000036.575.1170 / 36 1010.0 
H9YY31 / 000036.575.1170 / 36 1010.0 
HZZD31 / 190040.668.9130 / 37 1006.8 
WRYG01 / 060040.663.2240 / 44 1006.8 
DGTX01 / 060046.154.4210 / 41 1010.3 
HP603801 / 120046.448.4210 / 43 1011.6 
VEP71701 / 120046.748.7210 / 43 1009.9 
YJUF701 / 120046.848.0210 / 38 1010.5 
HP603801 / 150046.448.4210 / 41 1010.1 
VEP71701 / 150046.748.7210 / 41 1008.0 
YJUF701 / 150046.848.0210 / 40 1008.9 
HP603801 / 180046.448.4210 / 41 1008.2 
VEP71701 / 180046.748.7230 / 36 1007.3 
YJUF701 / 180046.848.0220 / 36 1007.4 
SBFC01 / 180047.341.8220 / 45 1007.0 
VEP71702 / 000046.748.7170 / 38 1000.0 
YJUF702 / 000046.848.0180 / 35 1000.9 
SBFC02 / 060046.345.6230 / 45 998.6 
LANT502 / 060048.631.3220 / 36 1006.0 
LANT502 / 120048.133.0200 / 35 1005.0 
LANT502 / 180048.234.6220 / 38 1000.0 


Table 3: Selected surface observations for Hurricane Gaston, 27 August - 1 September.
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)
South Carolina
Charleston (CHS)29/1330 999 29/1457 37 48   4.05 
Florence (FLO)30/0058 998.6 29/2300 30 41   4.36 
North Myrtle Beach (CRE)29/2234 1004.7 30/0040 31 39   1.69 
Myrtle Beach (MYR)  29/1945 35 45   0.47 
        
S.C. (Unofficial)
South Capers Island29/1254 985.1 29/1124 46e 71   
Downtown Charleston  29/0818 28g 42   4.63 
Pineville  29/1820 37g 51   5.01 
Isle of Palms29/1350 987 29/1239  70    
Myrtle Beach Springmaid Pier29/2124 1002.6 29/2200 39f 50    
Georgetown  29/1820  43    
Jamestown       7.05 
Fort Moultrie       5.05 
Charleston Harbor     7.03h  
Bulls Bay Charleston County     ~4.5   
Loris       2.87 
Outland Georgetown County       3.91 
LakeCity       6.45 
Hartsville       2.81 
Darlington Airport       6.00 
Darlington       5.55 
McColl       5.84 
Mullins       2.24 
Pee Dee       3.41 
Dillon       4.46 
Cades       9.83 
Kingstree       10.50 
Georgetown       3.80 
Andrews       5.30 
        
North Carolina
Lumberton (LBT)30/0641 1001.4 30/0326 27 35   3.37 
Wrightsville Beach NOS Jonnie Mercer Pier29/2300 1008.8 30/0412 33f 38    
Sunset Beach Pier NOS29/2200 1005.8 29/2100  36    
        
N.C. (Unofficial)
Carolina Beach  30/0250  39    
Lumberton 3SE       3.36 
Longwood       2.68 
Fair Bluff       3.01 
Red Springs       6.10 
Virginia (Official)
Richmond (RIC)       6.68 
Wakefield (NWS Office)       2.51 
Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel NOS  31/0142 37 45    
Kiptopeke NOS  31/0236 38 48    
Rappahannock Light NOS31/0224 1000.9 31/0506 34 39    
Sewells Point NOS  31/0118 35 43    
Yorktown NOS30/2342 1001.4 30/1900 32 42    
        
Virginia (Unofficial)
Ashland       10.61 
Richmond (Math & Science Center)       12.30 
Richmond (West End)       12.60 
Richmond (Science Museum)       6.56 
Richmond (St. Christopher's School)       6.40 
Mechanicsville       10.70 
Chester       6.20 
Winterpock       5.69 
Sandston       8.10 
Buoys and CMAN sites
TYBG1 (Navy Tower R8)29/0532 1004.3 29/0432 39 47    
SPAG1 (Navy Tower R2)29/0800 1003       
DUCN7 (Duck Pier)30/2100 1009.7 31/0100 29 40    
FBIS1 (Folly Beach)29/1200 998 29/1200 32g 44    
CHLV2 (Chesapeake Lt.)31/0200 1006 31/0150 44g 51    
4100429/0850 996       
4400431/1500 1012.2 31/1700 33g 43    
4400831/2000 1000.4 31/2200 31 42    
4400931/0700 1003.3 31/0940 27g 34    
4401101/0200 1001.4 01/0310 28g 38    
4401430/2300 1009.7 31/0500 28 36    
4413701/0820 1000.4 01/0920 30 43    
aDate/time is for sustained wind when both sustained and gust are listed.
bExcept as noted, sustained wind averaging periods for C-MAN and land-based ASOS reports are 2 min; buoy averaging periods are 8 min.
cStorm surge is water height above normal astronomical tide level.
d Storm tide is water height above National Geodetic Vertical Datum (1929 mean sea level).
e2 min average.
f6 min average.
g10 min average.
hWater height above mean lower low water.


Table 4: Preliminary forecast evaluation (heterogeneous sample) for Hurricane Gaston, 27 Aug. - 1 Sept. 2004. 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.
Forecast TechniquePeriod (hours)
122436487296120
CLP535 (15) 80 (13) 128 (11) 167 (10) 315 (8) 306 (4)  
GFNI33 (9) 30 (7)70 (7) 141 (7) 364 (5) 1000 (1)  
GFDI30 (11) 55 (9) 82 (8) 141 (8) 301 (6) 418 (2)  
GFDN36 (10) 56 (9) 62 (8) 111 (8) 277 (5) 799 (2)  
GFSI20 (11) 42 (9) 60 (8) 84 (8) 176 (6) 379 (2)  
AEMI21 (13) 42 (11) 51 (9)81 (9) 168 (7) 206 (3) 
NGPI24 (11) 46 (9) 74 (8) 130 (8) 305 (6) 801 (2)  
UKMI26 (7) 41 (6) 77 (6) 150 (6) 375 (4)   
A98E32 (15) 51 (13) 71 (11) 108 (10) 221 (8) 410 (4)  
A9UK30 (7) 52 (6) 85 (5) 155 (5) 239 (4)   
BAMD27 (15) 56 (13) 96 (11) 129 (10) 152 (8) 315 (4)  
BAMM31 (15) 54 (13) 79 (11) 97 (10) 200 (8) 308 (4)  
BAMS44 (15) 82 (13) 114 (11) 153 (10) 315 (8) 376 (4)  
CONU21 (11) 31 (9)44 (8)72 (8) 185 (6) 519 (2)  
GUNA17 (7)26 (6)46 (6)75 (6) 175 (4)   
FSSE18 (8)32 (6)46 (6)65 (6)153 (4)  
OFCL19 (13) 36 (11) 54 (9) 66 (9) 159 (7) 258 (3)  
NHC Official (1994-2003 mean)44 (3172) 78 (2894) 112 (2636) 146 (2368) 217 (1929) 248 (421) 319 (341) 


Table 5: Watch and warning summary for Hurricane Gaston 27, August - 1 September , 2004.
Date/TimeActionLocation
27 / 2100Tropical Storm Watch issuedSurf City to Fernandina Beach 
28 / 1500Tropical Storm Watch modified toLittle River Inlet to SurfCity 
28 / 1500Tropical Storm Warning issuedSavannah River to Little River Inlet 
28 / 2100Hurricane Watch issuedSavannah River to Little River Inlet 
29 / 0000Tropical Storm Warning/Hurricane Watch changed to Hurricane WarningSavannah River to Little River Inlet 
29 / 0300Tropical Storm Watch changed to Tropical Storm WarningLittle River Inlet to SurfCity 
29 / 1200Tropical Storm Watch discontinuedAll 
29 / 1500Tropical Storm Warning modified toEdisto Beach to Little River Inlet 
29 / 1500Hurricane Warning discontinuedAll 
29 / 2100Tropical Storm Warning modified toSouth Santee River to Little River Inlet 
30 / 0000Tropical Storm Warning discontinuedAll 

Best track positions for Hurricane Gaston

Figure 1: Best track positions for Hurricane Gaston, 27 Aug. - 1 Sept. 2004. Track during the extratropical stage is based, in part, on analyses from the NOAA Ocean Prediction Center.

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

Figure 2: Selected wind observations and best track maximum sustained surface wind speed curve for Hurricane Gaston, 27 Aug. - 1 Sept. 2004. 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. Estimates during the extratropical stage are based, in part, on analyses from the NOAA Ocean Prediction Center. Thin vertical line denotes landfall.

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

Figure 3: Selected pressure observations and best track minimum central pressure curve for Hurricane Gaston, 27 Aug. - 1 Sept. 2004. Estimates during the extratropical stage are based, in part, on analyses from the NOAA Ocean Prediction Center. Thin vertical line denotes landfall.



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Page last modified: Tuesday, 15-Mar-2005 21:06:16 UTC