Why Hurricane Dennis Let U.S. off Lightly

Willie Drye
for National Geographic News
Updated July 18, 2005

Hurricane Dennis, one of the most intense July hurricanes on record in the U.S., came ashore July 10, 2005, at Santa Rosa Island, Florida, just off Pensacola.

Despite its 120-mile-an-hour (190-kilometer-an hour) winds, Dennis's U.S. landfall was considerably weaker than expected, largely due to unusually cool seas and the "choking" effect of thunderstorms that were spawned by the hurricane.

The small eye of the compact, fast-moving storm struck about 30 miles (48 kilometers) east of where Hurricane Ivan made landfall in Alabama last fall.

Residents on the Gulf of Mexico coast had feared that Hurricane Dennis would inflict massive damage and had prepared for a battering. About 500,000 people moved inland as Dennis approached. In Alabama, state officials stopped southbound traffic along a stretch of Interstate 65 during the weekend so all lanes could be used for northbound traffic leaving the city of Mobile.

But the storm struck a less populated area of Florida's Panhandle, and its smaller size reduced the area that was exposed to its strongest winds. Still, as many as half a million people today are without power from Mississippi to Florida.

No deaths were reported in the area where Hurricane Dennis came ashore, and the storm weakened to a tropical depression as it moved inland Sunday night. But the U.S. National Hurricane Center warned Monday morning of possible "significant flooding" as the remnants of Dennis move slowly over the U.S. South during the next several days.

Dennis was the second major hurricane to strike the storm-battered Gulf Coast in less than a year and the fifth hurricane to strike Florida during the same period. And the hurricane barely waited for tropical storm Cindy to clear out before it arrived.

When Cindy departed only days earlier, coastal residents from Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle scarcely had time to replenish their supplies before hunkering down for an even worse pounding from Dennis.

Could Have Been Much, Much Worse

As bad as Hurricane Dennis was, however, it could have been much, much worse.

After lashing Haiti and other Caribbean nations, the storm came ashore on the southern coast of Cuba with winds approaching 150 miles (240 kilometers) an hour. At least 20 deaths were reported as a result of the hurricane's rampage across the Caribbean, which began July 5.

Crossing Cuba disrupted the hurricane's organization, however, and by the time it passed over Havana and emerged in the Gulf of Mexico, its strength was greatly reduced.

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