As devastating as a hurricane can be, meteorologist Wayne Neely’s fascination with the storm system has spawned 14 books on the topics. He stopped the press on the release of his 15th book – “The Greatest and Deadliest Hurricanes of The Bahamas”, which was due to hit stores last week Thursday – to allow him to revisit the book and include a small section on the monstrous Category 5 Hurricane Dorian that ravaged Abaco and Grand Bahama and saw a death toll of 23 to date, with the number expected to rise.
“I just love hurricanes because they’re mysterious; and with hurricanes you’re always left guessing about them. There’s always a surprise with hurricanes,” said the meteorologist and author.
“With hurricanes there’s always something – it’s like a magician…you never know what’s going to be pulled out of the hat when it comes to hurricanes. There’s always going to be some record that’s broken, some amazing aspect of a hurricane that will always surprise you, so my work is never done.”
Referencing 1988’s Category 5 Hurricane Gilbert that devastated Jamaica as an example, Neely said at the time it was the most intense hurricane on record with pressure of 888 millibars (atmospheric pressure).
“I remember at the time the experts saying we would never ever see a storm stronger than Gilbert. And then in 2005 Wilma came along – Wilma went to a pressure of 882 millibars, with sustained wind speeds of 160-plus, and they said you would never want to see winds stronger than that…and then Dorian comes along with 185-miles-per-hour winds with gusts of 220 miles per hour and 910 millibars,” he said. “Chances are in about 10 to 15 years we’re going to see another storm that eclipses the record set by Dorian – that’s what’s amazing about it – there’s always something unique…always something to learn about hurricanes.”
Even though he plans to add information on Hurricane Dorian to his latest book, he has plans to pen a complete book on the storm with the expectation of releasing it by June 1, 2020. He refers to Hurricane Dorian as the storm that wouldn’t give up.
“All the models initially had it forecasted to go over the mountains of Hispaniola and Puerto Rico. Dorian seems to have a mind of its own. He went further east than all the models predicted; all the experts predicted it would go over the mountains and it would ‘raggy’ the storm which meant we would only get a tropical storm force or Category 1 intensity storm at most, not knowing that Dorian had other plans. Dorian moved further east than normal. It didn’t impact Puerto Rico; it impacted more of St. Croix and the U.S. Virgin Islands and they didn’t plan for a major hurricane, and they got the brunt of the storm rather than Puerto Rico and that allowed it to strengthen significantly. And you had two factors – warm sea surface temperatures which was two degrees above normal and you also had light winds in the upper atmosphere – which provided growth for the storm. There was little or no wind shear tearing the system apart. So, it allowed Dorian to grow in perfect conditions. It was a perfect environment for a hurricane to form and thrive. There was nothing to stop Dorian. The good thing is now it’s encountering land area and eventually going to weaken, and it’s going to encounter cooler waters, so it means it will die a slow death, but Dorian just seems to have a mind of its own.”
While he’s fascinated by the weather system, Neely is sensitive to the devastation wreaked upon Abaco and Grand Bahama.
“My people are hurting and this is the time for Bahamians to come together. I love hurricanes, but my heart goes out to victims of the storm and my hope is that we become stronger than in the past. We will get through this with the help of every Bahamian,” said Neely.
The meteorologist and author’s fascination with hurricanes piqued during his youthful days growing up in South Andros where he would hear storm stories told by his dad, Lofton Neely, and his grandparents, Benjamin Neely and Jerry Gibson, as well as other older persons in the community. One of the storms they always referenced, he said, was the 1929 hurricane and how impactful it was.
Those stories and encouragement from the late Dr. Myles Munroe motivated him to pen his first book “The Great Bahamas Hurricane of 1929”.
“It was something I was familiar with,” said Neely. “And I remember them talking about the 1929 hurricane, so I went to my grandfather and told him I’m thinking about writing a book on the 1929 hurricane and he said that was an excellent idea because it was the deadliest hurricane to have impacted The Bahamas, and so I got his recollection. At the time I was working at meteorology and I went to South Andros to interview persons about it. Many of them I interviewed, a lot of them cried telling me the story. That was many years later and many of them were still feeling the impact of that storm.”
He said 147 people passed away in the devastating 1929 storm.
Neely, 49, an international speaker, hurricane lecturer and educator, has garnered the reputation of being somewhat of a rock star of hurricanes among the weather set because of his love of weather and weather systems. The people in the weather community call him “Mr. Hurricane”.
His earliest memory of actually living through a hurricane as a youth growing up in South Andros was the Category 1 storm David in 1979, which he said was ferocious and devastating at the time.
“I remember all the winds and rain, beating down on my grandmother’s house and so after the hurricane, me and my brothers went out in the settlement and saw all these trees blown down, which for us was exciting. We didn’t realize that people’s homes were being destroyed in the meantime in other places. All we knew was that we had gotten a day off from school and we were happy because we didn’t have to go to school.”
Other storms the meteorologist has lived through include Hurricane Andrew in 1992, which hit while he was employed at the Department of Meteorology.
“I was working with Basil Dean, the forecaster at the time, and Andrew started off just like Dorian – a little storm that nobody expected anything out of, and in fact most of the experts had given it up and said it would dissipate. It was near Hispaniola as well, and I remember, we were working the night shift and at the time we had printers and they kept beating out stories saying Andrew had strengthened and was becoming a major storm. I said boy this is going to be really rough; this is going to be a bad one.” At the time Andrew hit, it was categorized as a four, but upgraded 10 years later to a Category 5.
He recalled riding out Category 4 Hurricane Floyd in 1999, and Category 1 Hurricane Michelle in 2001.
His fascination with storm systems means he’s able to spout interesting tidbits of information like the fact that New Providence is rarely impacted by a storm due to its geographical location; and that Grand Bahama is the island in The Bahamas most impacted and is at number three on the list of countries and islands in the Caribbean and North Atlantic most impacted. Abaco is listed at number four; and Andros at number six because of their positioning.
“All the islands are situated north to south. Grand Bahama is situated west to east. It’s like a bigger land space and easier to get hit when you’re from west to east rather than north to south,” said Neely.
He said the listings change from year to year, but currently Charlotte, North Carolina, and Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, in the United States, are at one and two. Neely said next year the rankings will probably be different, and Grand Bahama could probably be at number one. New Providence is currently at number 39 on the list. Prior to Michelle in 2001 and Matthew in 2016, the last major hurricanes to score direct hits on New Providence were in 1933 and 1929.