The early forecast for Charley took the hurricane northward through the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, making landfall along the Big Bend area of Florida. Normally, August hurricanes have a more westward component, with recurvature less likely. However, an unusually strong cold front and associated low pressure trough was diving down into the Gulf of Mexico. It was this trough that was expected to turn the hurricane northward...into Florida. The map above shows the forecast track issued by the National Hurricane Center at 5pm on August 10. The Melbourne Weather Service began mentioning the possibility of tropical storm conditions in the Orlando area by Friday, August 13. With Tropical Storm Bonnie already in the Gulf heading for a Florida Panhandle landfall by Thursday, the local tv news was hyping the possibility of a 1-2 punch just a day apart.
|By August 11, it was becoming apparent that the strong cold front was going to force Charley to turn northward even sooner. The 5pm forecast map issued by the Hurricane Center shows landfall now on the southwest Florida coast, with a NE turn across the entire peninsula. A hurricane watch was issued for the Florida Keys and Southwest coast.|
|By August 12, the computer models began shifting the forecast track of Charley back to the west. The 11am advisory from the Hurricane Center now predicted landfall very near Tampa, with a NE track across the peninsula to Jacksonville. This path would result in tropical storm conditions across the Orlando area. Hurricane warnings were issued for the Florida Keys and Southwest coast. A Hurricane watch was issued up the Florida west coast to the Big Bend area.|
|The 5pm advisory on Thursday, August 12 shifted the track even further west. Landfall was still predicted to be near Tampa, but Charley was now forecast to move mostly northward up the western Peninsula into Georgia. A flood watch was issued for all of Central Florida for anticipated rainfall amounts of 3-6 inches with the hurricane's outer rain bands.|
At 5pm, the first Local Hurricane Statement was issued by the Melbourne Weather Service, placing all of East Central Florida under an inland tropical storm watch and tornado watch. The tropical storm watch predicted sustained winds in excess of 45mph, with gusts to 60mph in heavier squalls. With this fairly "mild" forecast, very little storm preparation was undertaken in Central Florida. There was however, one caveat in the hurricane statement that was to prove fateful: "A small deviation to the east of the storm track would bring much stronger winds into the Orlando metropolitan area and Seminole and Volusia counties"
Meanwhile, hurricane warnings were extended up the west coast of Florida to just north of Tampa. The forecast was for Charley to move north across the Eastern Gulf and make landfall near Tampa. There-after, the hurricane was expected to gradually curve NE, passing well north and west of the Orlando area. As we retired for the night, it appeared that once again, East Central Florida was going to dodge the bullet with another near miss by a powerful hurricane.
Part 2~ The Storm Approaches
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