A tropical storm with six lives: the history of Barry

Satellite view of tropical storm Barry late Wednesday afternoon (NOAA)

Satellite view of tropical storm Barry late Wednesday afternoon (NOAA)

Barry is a tropical storm name that just won’t give up and retire. The current Barry, earning the name this afternoon, is the sixth storm to have that name since 1983.

Barry track forecast. Tropical storm warnings shaded in blue. (NOAA)

Barry track forecast. Tropical storm warnings shaded in blue. (NOAA)

Positioned 70 miles east-northeast of Veracruz of Mexico, 2013 vintage Barry – with maximum sustained winds of 40 mph – is expected to make landfall early Thursday in southern Mexico.  Heavy rain is forecast to be the main impact, with 3 to 5 inches forecast generally and isolated amounts to 10 inches.

What’s in a name?

The National Hurricane Center uses six lists of names that repeat each six years except for storms that do so much damage or kill so many people that the name is retired, as Hurricane Sandy was last year.

With this year’s Barry looking unlikely to earn retirement, the name won’t have another chance to be put out to pasture until 2019.

Barry joined the list of hurricane names in 1983 thanks to the 1979 change from using only female names for storms to using both male and female names.

Of all of the Barrys so far, the first one (from 1983) probably came the closest to qualifying for retirement.

After coming ashore as a tropical depression it crossed Florida and grew into a Category  1 hurricane over the Gulf of Mexico. The National Hurricane Center posted hurricane warnings along the Texas Coast prompting thousands of people to evacuate the coast and workers to leave oil drilling platforms.  Barry continued straight across the Gulf to hit Mexico’s northeast coast a few miles south of the U.S. boarder as an 80 mph hurricane. Mexican authorities reported it left 400 people homeless but didn’t kill anyone.

Barry the First formed on Aug. 23, 1983, grew into a 60 mph tropical storm overnight and turned west toward the central Florida Coast. Later that day wind shear from strong upper level winds kept Barry from strengthening. In fact it weakened overnight and was again a tropical depression when its center came ashore south of Melbourne, Fla., the morning of Aug. 25, roughly 40 miles south of the Shuttle Challenger on its launch pad.

The storm formed so quickly and so close to Florida that NASA didn’t have time to roll the Challenger back to safety in the huge Vehicle Assembly Building.

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Lockheed WP-3D Orion hurricane hunter aircraft (NOAA)

Barry was important to me because it was the first of the five flights I made in the two NOAA WP-3 “hurricane hunter” turboprops while working for USA TODAY and later the American Meteorological Society. After Barry the other flights were all into hurricanes.

Instead of relying on my memory of the flight I contacted Neal Dorst of NOAA’s Hurricane Research Division in Miami.  He sent me the detailed records of the flight and told me how to contact Dave Jorgensen, who was NOAA’s  chief project scientist for the flight.  He’s now chief of the National Severe Storms Laboratory Warnings Research and Development Division in Norman, Okla.

Barry was an easy introduction to storm flying. We took off from Miami International Airport (where the NOAA planes were then based) at 9:53 pm, Aug. 24, 1983 and returned at 3:07 a.m. Aug. 25 after an extremely smooth flight that included six trips through the storm’s center. This gave me plenty of time to talk with the airplane’s scientists and crew.

In his 1983 report Jorgensen says: “The storm was just off the Florida coast near Ft. Pierce. We flew truncated ‘fig 4’ patterns. The system was really weak, 10-15 knots of low-level wind only. The notable thing was the apparent reformation of the center to the southwest in response to a developing convective line. Back in those days there was considerable uncertainty concerning cyclogenesis processes.”

Flight path into Barry, 1983.  The green lines show the coasts of Florida and Bahamian islands (NOAA Hurricane Research Division)

Flight path into Barry, 1983. The green lines show the coasts of Florida and Bahamian islands (NOAA Hurricane Research Division)

Barry’s weakening before hitting Florida meant that the Shuttle Challenger successfully made the first night launch of a shuttle on Aug. 30.

Here’s what happened with the other four Atlantic Basin storms named Barry.

* The 1989 Tropical Storm Barry formed midway between Africa and the Lesser Antilles. Its winds reached the highest speed of 50 mph before it weakened to a depression and died on July 13 545 miles northeast of the Lesser Antilles.

* The 1995 Barry formed between South Carolina and Bermuda and moved toward the northeast until it came ashore in Nova Scotia where it caused no damage.

* The 2001 Barry formed as a tropical depression and quickly became a tropical storm on August 2 in the Gulf of Mexico north of Key West. It became a 74 mph hurricane on Aug. 5 and came ashore at Santa Rosa Beach, Fla. the next day with winds estimated as 70 mph. The National Hurricane Center attributed two deaths to Barry: a person killed by lightning in Jacksonville, Fla., and another who drowned in a rip current on Sanibel Island, Fla. As the tropical wave that spawned Barry was moving over the Florida Straits high waves capsized a boat carrying people fleeing Cuba, killing six of the 28 aboard.

* The 2007 Barry came ashore over the Tampa Bay, Fla., area on June 2 after weakening to a  tropical depression. It was becoming an extratropical cyclone at the time. It crossed Florida and its remnants continued moving toward the northeast off the East Coast until merging with a larger storm off the New England Coast.

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PM Update: Clouds on the way out, terrific Thursday ahead