Something rare happened in the Atlantic: An ‘unusual’ hurricane hitting Cape Verde


Something rare happened in the Atlantic — a hurricane has hit Cape Verde. (It’s since weakened to a tropical storm).

The islands off the coast of Africa lend their name to some of the most powerful storms the Atlantic produces, yet they themselves rarely get hit.

According to the official Atlantic tropical cyclone record, which begins in 1851, Hurricane Fred is the first hurricane to pass through the Cape Verde Islands since 1892.

“Fred is unusual,” said Dennis Feltgen, spokesman for the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. He cautions that the database is less reliable prior to the satellite era: the mid-1960s onward.


Fred grew to a Category 1 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, with winds of 136 kilometres per hour, as it bore down on the island nation on Monday.

It became a tropical storm and got its name Sunday, making it only the fourth to form east of 19 degrees west latitude. That’s pretty far east. The meridian passes through Iceland and is just off the African coast.

Cape Verde, or the Republic of Cabo Verde, is a series of islands that have a collective land area a little larger than Rhode Island and a population of about 546,000 people, according to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s Factbook.

In most hurricane seasons it is known as the point where the main development region starts — a patch of ocean that goes west from the islands to the edge of the Caribbean.

This is where some of the worst tropical systems in history have been born and collectively they are often referred to as Cape Verde hurricanes. They also tend to be among the longest- lived hurricanes, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

#Fred wends its way through N Cape Verdes. Good news: most islands are on weaker SW side.

— Bob Henson (@bhensonweather) August 31, 2015

Hurricanes Hugo (1989) and Ike (2008) came out of this area, as did the 1928 Okeechobee Hurricane that killed at least 1,886 people, according to the hurricane center.

Fred was born from a large storm that had been brewing over Africa for the last week, said Dan Kottlowski, a meteorologist with AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania.

When it got over the warm Atlantic water off the coast of Africa it took off. There is very little wind shear, which can tear at a storm’s structure, and the dry air that has been holding back other storms this year was too far away, he said.

“It was a fascinating thing to watch,” Kottlowski said. “Everything just kind of clicked for this thing to get together.”

The Cape Verde islands are steep, rocky and volcanic in origin, according to the CIA. The highest point is Mt. Fogo at 2,829 metres.

Drawing larger conclusions out of Fred’s existence will be tough, said Jeff Masters, co-founder of Underground in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

“The Fred situation may just be one of those things that happens once every 100 years or so,” Masters said.

Authorities in Cape Verde say the first hurricane to pass over the West African islands caused flooding, uprooted trees and tore off some roofs but caused no major damage or injuries.

Arlindo Lima, head of the country’s Civil Protection Service, told Portuguese radio RDP-Africa on Tuesday that Hurricane Fred lashed the former Portuguese colony with high winds, knocking out power in some areas of the 10-island archipelago, while heavy rain forced the closure of some roads. Authorities closed ports and airports as Fred approached Monday.

With files from National Post staff and the Associated Press

About Brian K. Sullivan, Bloomberg News