Tropical Storm Zelda (1991)

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Severe Tropical Storm Zelda
Severe tropical storm (JMA scale)
Category 1 typhoon (SSHWS)
A visible satellite image of a very compact tropical storm, with a small and partially obscured eye in the center of its central dense overcast
Zelda near the Marshall Islands on November 29, 1991
FormedNovember 27, 1991 (1991-11-27)
DissipatedDecember 7, 1991 (1991-12-07)
(Extratropical after December 5, 1991 (1991-12-05))
Highest winds10-minute sustained: 110 km/h (70 mph)
1-minute sustained: 150 km/h (90 mph)
Lowest pressure975 hPa (mbar); 28.79 inHg
Areas affectedMarshall Islands, Alaska, Canada
Part of the 1991 Pacific typhoon season

Severe Tropical Storm Zelda was the last tropical cyclone of the 1991 Pacific typhoon season; it struck the Marshall Islands on November 28. The area of low pressure that eventually became Zelda formed near the International Date Line, and strengthened into a tropical depression on November 27. The Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) reported that the depression had reached tropical storm intensity near the Marshall Islands on November 28, thus naming it Zelda. On November 29, the storm quickly strengthened to 65 knots (120 km/h; 75 mph) according to the JTWC, equivalent to a Category 1 typhoon on the Saffir–Simpson hurricane wind scale. It reached a peak of 80 kn (150 km/h; 90 mph) according to the JTWC, and 60 kn (110 km/h; 70 mph) according to the Japanese Meteorological Agency (JMA), with a barometric pressure of 975 hectopascals (28.8 inHg). Zelda weakened into a tropical storm on December 2, and then a tropical depression two days later. The JTWC discontinued warnings late on December 4, while the JMA declared the storm to be extratropical the next day and continued to track until it crossed the International Date Line again on December 7.

Zelda caused significant damage in the Marshall Islands, and operations at Kwajalein Missile Range were disrupted severely. No deaths or injuries were reported. About 60 percent of homes were destroyed in Ebeye Island, leaving 6,000 people without residence. Nearly all crops on the islands were destroyed, and food and other supplies were contaminated by salt. Later in December, the president of the United States, George H. W. Bush declared the storm to be a major disaster, allowing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to assist with funding and repairs. The Marshall Islands also requested funds from other countries.

Meteorological history[edit]

Map of the western Pacific Ocean depicting the track of Tropical Storm Zelda, through the Marshall Islands and its re-curvature
Map plotting the storm's track and intensity, according to the Saffir–Simpson scale
Map key
  Tropical depression (≤38 mph, ≤62 km/h)
  Tropical storm (39–73 mph, 63–118 km/h)
  Category 1 (74–95 mph, 119–153 km/h)
  Category 2 (96–110 mph, 154–177 km/h)
  Category 3 (111–129 mph, 178–208 km/h)
  Category 4 (130–156 mph, 209–251 km/h)
  Category 5 (≥157 mph, ≥252 km/h)
Storm type
▲ Extratropical cyclone / Remnant low / Tropical disturbance / Monsoon depression

Westerly winds near the equator – associated with an ongoing El Niño event – assisted in spawning a weak area of low pressure in late November 1991 near the International Date Line. The JTWC began tracking the area on the Significant Tropical Weather Advisory at 06:00 UTC on November 25. Vertical wind shear prevented strengthening at first, but the disturbance continued to develop. A tropical cyclone formation alert from the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) soon followed.[1] The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) started tracking the disturbance at 06:00 UTC on November 27,[2][nb 1] and the JTWC issued their first warning 18 hours later on the depression, naming it 31W. The depression quickly intensified, and it was designated a tropical storm at 00:00 UTC on November 28 by the JTWC, with winds of 35 knots (65 km/h; 40 mph).[nb 2] Operationally, the storm was upgraded twenty-four hours later and given the name Zelda, after Kwajalein received stronger winds than expected. The JTWC attributed the delay to the small size of the storm, the poorly organized outflow, and the lack of visible and infrared image pairs for analysis.[1] The JMA upgraded the storm at 03:00 UTC on November 29,[2] then to a severe tropical storm eighteen hours later.[2] The JTWC reported that Zelda intensified into a typhoon at 12:00 UTC near the Marshall Islands, with winds of 65 kn (120 km/h; 75 mph), equivalent to a Category 1 on the Saffir–Simpson hurricane wind scale.[1] At that time, the JMA kept it as a tropical storm with winds of 45 kn (85 km/h; 50 mph), with a pressure reading of 990 hectopascals (29 inHg).[2]

Around 06:00 UTC on November 30, the JMA estimated Zelda had reached its peak at 60 kn (110 km/h; 70 mph), with a barometric pressure of 975 hPa (28.8 inHg).[2] Six hours later, the JTWC reported the storm had strengthened to maximum sustained winds of 80 kn (150 km/h; 90 mph), west of Enewetak. Later, a trough created by Typhoon Yuri caused the subtropical ridge to weaken, allowing Zelda to move northward.[1] By December 1, the storm began to weaken and turned northeast. On December 2, the JMA reported the storm's winds had decreased to 50 kn (95 km/h; 60 mph).[2] The JTWC reported the storm weakened below typhoon strength on 18:00 UTC of the same day, with winds of 60 kn (110 km/h; 70 mph).[5] Upper-level winds and westerlies soon increased,[1][6] and Zelda's central convection became sheared.[1] The JMA downgraded Zelda to a tropical storm on December 3, and to a tropical depression later that day.[2] A few hours later, the JTWC downgraded the storm to a tropical depression, as it unexpectedly turned to the northwest.[5] The low-level circulation of the storm detached from the cold front, and the JTWC issued the last warning of the year.[1] The depression turned back northeast, the JMA declared the storm to be extratropical on December 5, and the agency stopped tracking it just past the International Date Line on December 7.[2][7] Remnants of the storm moved inland into northern British Columbia by December 8.[8]

Impact and aftermath[edit]

Zelda was the first of three storms to strike the Marshall Islands within one year, just before Axel and Gay in 1992.[9] The storm affected Marshall Islands on November 28, producing sustained winds ranging from 120–160 km/h (75–100 mph). The storm impacted islands of Kwajalein, Majuro, Lae, Wotho, and Eniwetok.[10] Kwajalein Missile Range, which was used in Strategic Defense Initiative testing,[11] caught stronger winds than expected from the storm, affecting operations at the missile range.[1] A pressure of 990.1 hPa (29.24 inHg) was recorded on Kwajalein, which was the lowest pressure recorded on the atoll at that time.[12] On Ebeye Island, 60 percent of homes made of plywood and sheet-iron roofs were destroyed by the storm,[1][10] and 6,000 people were left homeless. Food and water supplies were contaminated from salt in storm surge, and the water desalination plant became inoperable.[10] Power lines were cut across the island. There were no deaths or significant injuries. Other islands in the nation had their water contaminated by saltwater, and 95 percent of the crops were destroyed by the storm surge.[10] Coral reefs were also heavily damaged when the storm came nearby.[13] As an extratropical cyclone, Zelda bought heavy rain and 110 km/h (70 mph) winds to Southeast Alaska.[14] Heavy snow was reported in northern British Columbia, and lesser amounts inland British Columbia and southern Yukon.[8]

The United States Army engaged in clean up and repairing in the country. On December 6, the 834th Airlift Division sent six C-130s to Kwajalein with supplies.[15] On the same day, President of the United States George H. W. Bush, through the Compact of Free Association,[10] declared a major disaster in the Marshall Islands,[16] allowing federal funding to be sent to the Arno, Aur, Kwajalein, Lae, Lib, Namu and Ujae islands.[17][18] United States Senator Daniel Akaka visited Ebeye after the storm, and he criticized the response of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), as the funding did not cover repairing of structures regarded as substandard.[19] The Government of the Marshall Islands requested for aid via United Nations Disaster Relief Organization (UNDRO) on December 18.[10] By December 19, 1,380 people were still living in temporary shelters.[19]

By March 26, 1992, about $98,000 (1992 USD, equivalent to $189,237 in 2021) worth of relief goods were sent to the Marshall Islands from UNDRO, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and Government of Australia. FEMA sent $1.518 million (1992 USD, equivalent to $2,931,248 in 2021) to affected families.[10] Critical infrastructure in Ebeye were repaired by the Kwajalein Atoll Development Authority by November 1992.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Japan Meteorological Agency is the official Regional Specialized Meteorological Center for the western Pacific Ocean.[3]
  2. ^ Wind estimates from the JMA and most other basins throughout the world are sustained over 10–minutes, while estimates from the United States-based Joint Typhoon Warning Center are sustained over 1–minute. Sustained 1–minute winds are about 1.14 times the amount of 10 minute winds.[4]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Mundell, Dan B.; Wells, Frank H.; McDonald, Brian L.; Delanuez, Carlos A.; Belew, Ray O. (1991). 1991 Annual Tropical Cyclone Report (PDF) (Report). Joint Typhoon Warning Center. pp. 146–149. Archived (PDF) from the original on December 6, 2013. Retrieved May 18, 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "RSMC Best Track Data (Text)". Japan Meteorological Agency. 1990–1999. Archived from the original on January 22, 2013. Retrieved May 28, 2014.
  3. ^ Annual Report on Activities of the RSMC Tokyo – Typhoon Center 2000 (PDF) (Report). Japan Meteorological Agency. February 2001. p. 3. Archived (PDF) from the original on October 31, 2015. Retrieved June 1, 2014.
  4. ^ Landsea, Chris (April 21, 2006). "Subject: D4) What does "maximum sustained wind" mean? How does it relate to gusts in tropical cyclones?". Frequently Asked Questions. Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory. Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. Retrieved May 29, 2014.
  5. ^ a b "Typhoon Zelda (31W) Best Track". Joint Typhoon Warning Center. Archived from the original on October 10, 2012. Retrieved May 31, 2014.
  6. ^ Darwin Regional Specialised Meteorological Centre (December 1991). "Typhoon Zelda" (PDF). Darwin Tropical Diagnostic Statement. Australian Bureau of Meteorology. 10 (12): 2. Archived (PDF) from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved March 22, 2020.
  7. ^ Knapp, Kenneth R.; Diamond, Howard J.; Kossin, James P.; Kruk, Michael C.; Schreck, Carl J. III (2018). 1991 Typhoon ZELDA (1991329N04181). International Best Track Archive for Climate Stewardship (IBTrACS) Project, Version 4. (Report). NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information. doi:10.25921/82ty-9e16. Retrieved April 18, 2020 – via University of North Carolina at Asheville.
  8. ^ a b "Weather". Whitehorse Daily Star. Whitehorse, Yukon. December 10, 1991. p. 3. Retrieved March 23, 2020 – via icon of an open green padlock
  9. ^ "Country Risk Profile: Marshall Islands" (PDF). World Bank. September 2011. p. 3. Archived (PDF) from the original on March 22, 2020. Retrieved March 22, 2020.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Marshall Islands - Typhoon Zelda Dec 1991 UNDRO Situation Reports 1-3 (Report). United Nations Department of Humanitarian Affairs. December 6, 1991. Archived from the original on June 1, 2014. Retrieved January 8, 2014 – via ReliefWeb.
  11. ^ TenBruggencate, Jan (November 27, 1991). Written at Lihue, Hawaii. "Full study on STARS impact due". The Honolulu Advertiser. Honolulu, Hawaii. Advertiser Kauai Bureau. p. 47. Retrieved March 22, 2020 – via icon of an open green padlock
  12. ^ "Pacific ENSO Update: 2nd Quarter 2015" (PDF). Pacific ENSO Update. United States Pacific El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) Applications Climate Center. 21 (2): 11. May 29, 2015. Archived (PDF) from the original on March 4, 2016.
  13. ^ Birkeland, Charles; Edward, Ahser; Golbuu, Yimnang; Gutierrez, Jay; Idechong, Noah; Maragos, James; Paulay, Gustav; Richmond, Robert; Tafileichig, Andrew; Velde, Nancy Vander. Status of the Coral Reefs in the Pacific Freely Associated States (PDF) (Report). National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. p. 209. Archived (PDF) from the original on February 16, 2013. Retrieved May 24, 2014.
  14. ^ "Alaska Summary". Daily Sitka Sentinel. Sitka, Alaska. December 9, 1991. p. 2. Retrieved March 23, 2020 – via icon of an open green padlock
  15. ^ Fredriksen, John C. (2011). The United States Air Force: a chronology. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. p. 294. ISBN 978-1598846829. OCLC 720622621. Archived from the original on October 13, 2016. Retrieved April 12, 2020.
  16. ^ "Declaration Allows Typhoon Disaster Assistance". Associated Press. Washington, District of Columbia. December 9, 1991. Retrieved April 12, 2020.
  17. ^ "Republic of the Marshall Islands Typhoon Zelda (DR-925)". Federal Emergency Management Agency. Archived from the original on May 26, 2014. Retrieved May 26, 2014.
  18. ^ "Designated Areas: Republic of Marshall Islands Typhoon Zelda". Federal Emergency Management Agency. Archived from the original on June 1, 2014. Retrieved May 26, 2014.
  19. ^ a b Written at Majuro, Marshall Islands. "Akaka critical of aid to the Marshall Isles". Hawaii Tribune-Herald. Hilo, Hawaii. p. 2. Retrieved April 22, 2020 – via icon of an open green padlock
  20. ^ Polhemus, David (November 22, 1992). "Oily Soil: Slick solution or a dirty deal?". The Honolulu Advertiser. Honolulu, Hawaii. p. 2. Retrieved March 23, 2020 – via icon of an open green padlock

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