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Sundial Now: Remembering another Category 4 hurricane with a strikingly similar path to Ian

Pedro Portal
Miami Herald
Sailboats anchored in Roberts Bay are blown around by 50 mph winds in Venice, Florida, as Hurricane Ian, a potential Category 5, approaches the west coast of Florida on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022.

Tropical Storm Ian has brought up some memories of another hurricane that caused havoc on Cuba and Florida.

Hurricane Charley also made landfall on the west coast of Florida as a Category 4 in August 2004.

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“If you look at their tracks, they are astonishingly parallel,” said WLRN’s America’s editor Tim Padgett. “Hurricane Charley started in that same pocket of the lower Caribbean Sea that Ian started in a week or so ago… [it] even made landfall earlier this week, pretty much at the same place where Charley made landfall in Cuba in 2004.”

Padgett joined Sundial Now to discuss the similarities and differences between these two storms. He recalled his own experience reporting on Hurricane Charley.

“I remember that it was just a few days before school was going to start that year because my young daughter, she was seven years old at the time. We had a tradition every August before she went back to school, she and I would have tea at the Biltmore Hotel and I remember I got the call from my editor,” said Padgett, who was the Miami bureau chief for Time Magazine at the time.

“So I had to leave my very nice tea with my young daughter and start chasing Charley straight up the Florida peninsula.”

While the paths of both storms are strikingly similar, the comparisons really end with their size and speed. Ian has been a much larger and slower storm. Right before it made landfall in Southwest Florida this week, the diameter of its eye was about 35 miles.

“[The] entire extent of hurricane force wind field of Charley 2004 would fit inside Ian’s eye,” tweeted Rick Knabb, an expert with The Weather Channel.

Another factor that has influenced the differences between these two storms is climate change.

“The Gulf of Mexico waters are so much warmer than they were 18 years ago. And that has given Ian, I think, a lot more energy and a lot more water, precipitation, rain surge than Charley had. Charley has been described as more of a wind event…Ian is being looked at as more of a storm surge damage storm,” said Padgett.

“That's what we're going to see in the aftermath of [Ian] in Florida. And it's also what we saw in the aftermath of being in Cuba. Some of the most remarkable photos on social media that we've been seeing from Cuba after Ian, are people walking around their homes in water up to their waists.”

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Leslie Ovalle Atkinson is the lead producer behind WLRN's daily magazine program, Sundial. She previously produced Morning Edition newscasts at WLRN and anchored the midday news. As a multimedia producer, she also works on visual and digital storytelling.
Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.