Hurricane Charley made landfall on the Southwest coast of Florida near Cayo Costa, just west of Ft. Myers around 345 pm EDT on August 13, 2004. A second landfall occurred an hour later near Punta Gorda. Maximum sustained surface winds were near 150 mph during the 1st landfall making Charley a Category 4 on the Saffir-Simpson scale. Charley caused ten direct fatalities in the U.S. and an estimated $14 billion in economic losses.
Data source: NOAA
NEXRAD radar image of Hurricane Charley moving over Punta Gorda, Florida.
The Storm Report’s Own Meteorologist Sally Russell covered the storm on the radio and had a personal interest in the track as well. The storm was headed dangerously close to her hometown in SW Florida. I asked Sally to give her perspective on this small but intense hurricane.
Path of the storm:I think one of the most interesting and impressive things about the landfall of hurricane Charley is not only the rapid intensity (drop of 23 millibars (mb) of pressure in less than five hours) but also the sharp right turn it made into Charlotte Harbor. Models had the storm making a possible landfall into Tampa Bay. As the hurricane made the turn into Charlotte Harbor, into the town of Punta Gorda it gave folks very little time to prepare.
Behavior of the storm:This was a tiny tiny hurricane…. hurricane force winds only out 50 miles from the center. Tiny but very tightly wound Charley behaved as a rather large tornado. Now I know that is not really the case however covering the storm live all day long, this storm kept all tropical characteristics through the state of Florida. As it approached the Orlando metro area Charley was still so impressive. Visually the storm didn’t even look like it had been over land all day.
Covering the storm: This storm was hard to cover on two levels, it was a high end category 4 storm a fast mover and I knew that many folks would be impacted. At the time I had three clients in three different areas in Florida that all had listeners in the path of the storm. Pretty impressive since the storm was so tiny. Seeing damage pictures from Central and Eastern Florida had an impact on me…. however to cover this storm… a storm that came so close to devastating my home town was eerie. I grew up in SW Florida and my family still live there. I remember calling my parents, warning them. I could see what this storm could potentially do… and I was scared. I was scared for them, for friends I went to high school with, for people that I’ve known most of my life. And I was powerless to help them other than give them advice on what they should do. And I still had to cover the storm on the radio, and not let on to my listeners that I had family in the path of the storm.
The aftermath: Only 5-10 miles separated destruction from where I used to live. The first job I ever had at the Peace River Wildlife Center… gone, wiped completely off the map, hotels and business that I had attended functions at or had frequented… gone if not completely they were just the outer shell nothing else. And after about 3 months after the Friday the 13th storm, I went back “home”. I saw the aftermath first hand, a lump in my throat. to see my old “stomping grounds” overwhelming! Rows and rows and rows of tarps on roofs. Some of those homes sit vacant today.
Punta Gorda: What a wonderful resilient city! This quaint town has come back better and more beautiful than ever. I was just there in June. Port Charlotte is coming along, it’s just been a much slower process. So proud of the area of Florida that I called home for many years.
Aerial image of destroyed homes in Punta Gorda (USA), following hurricane Charley. (FEMA)
The Baker Head Start School on E. Charlotte Street was destroyed by Hurricane Charley. (FEMA)
Aerial image of destroyed homes in Punta Gorda, following hurricane Charley. FEMA Photo/Andrea Booher
Aircraft destroyed in Punta Gorda, following hurricane Charley. FEMA Photo/Andrea Booher