Charley began as a tropical wave that moved off the west coast of Africa on August 4. It moved quickly westward and steadily organized over the open Atlantic Ocean, with convection developing in curved bands. The wave continued to develop as it approached the Lesser Antilles, and became Tropical Depression Three on August 9 while 115 mi (185 km) south-southeast of Barbados, near the island of Grenada, however, the threat to Barbados was short-lived. Low upper-level wind shear and well-defined outflow contributed to further intensification, and the depression strengthened on August 10, despite being located in the eastern Caribbean Sea, which is an area not particularly suited to tropical cyclogenesis. At this time, the National Hurricane Center in Miami designated the name "Charley."
Hurricane Charley approaching Cuba on August 12
A strong ridge of high pressure to the system's north forced Charley to change track quickly to the west-northwest. It continued to strengthen and became a Category 1 hurricane on August 11, while 90 mi (140 km) south of Kingston, Jamaica. The storm was being steered around the periphery of the high pressure area, and as a result, Charley changed direction toward the northwest. The following day, the core passed 40 mi (64 km) southwest of Jamaica, affecting the island on August 11 and 12. The storm then passed 15 mi (24 km) northeast of Grand Cayman, reaching Category 2 status just after passing the island. The hurricane continued to strengthen as it turned to the northwest and rounded the southwest portion of the subtropical ridge, becoming a major hurricane—a storm classified as a Category 3 hurricane or higher—just before making landfall on southern Cuba. Charley came ashore near
Punta Cayamas with maximum sustained winds of 120 mph (190 km/h) and gusts of up to 133 mph (214 km/h), at about 0430 UTC on August 13. It weakened while crossing the island, passing about 15 mi (24 km) west of downtown Havana before weakening to 110 mph (180 km/h).
Charley rapidly intensifying as it approached Florida
on August 13
After crossing Cuba near
Menelao Mora, Hurricane Charley accelerated to the north-northeast, toward the southwest coast of Florida in response to the approach of an unseasonal mid-tropospheric trough. Charley passed over the Dry Tortugas at 1200 UTC on August 13, with maximum winds of about 110 mph (180 km/h). The strike occurred only 22 hours after Tropical Storm Bonnie made landfall on St. Vincent Island, marking the first time two tropical cyclones hit the same state within a 24-hour period. Then Charley rapidly intensified, strengthening from a 110 mph (180 km/h) hurricane with a minimum central barometric pressure of 965 mbar (hPa; 28.50 inHg) to a 145 mph (233 km/h) hurricane with a pressure of 947 mbar (hPa; 27.96 inHg) in just three hours. It continued to strengthen as it turned more to the northeast, and made landfall near the island of Cayo Costa, Florida as a 150 mph (240 km/h) Category 4 hurricane with a pressure of 941 mbar (hPa; 27.79 inHg) at approximately 1945 UTC on August 13. An hour later, the hurricane struck Punta Gorda as a 145 mph (233 km/h) storm and then passed up through Port Charlotte. However, the eye had shrunk before landfall, limiting the most powerful winds to an area within 7 mi (11 km) of the center.
Charley weakened considerably due to its passage over land, but still retained sustained winds of about 85 mph (137 km/h) as it passed directly over Orlando between 0020 and 0140 UTC August 14; gusts of up to 106 mph (171 km/h) were recorded at Orlando International Airport. It cut a swath of destruction across Florida, also passing near Kissimmee. The hurricane reemerged into the Atlantic Ocean after crossing directly over New Smyrna Beach as a Category 1 hurricane, but restrengthened slightly over open waters. Continuing to move rapidly to the north-northeast, Charley struck near Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, South Carolina as an 80 mph (130 km/h) hurricane, moved offshore briefly, and made its final landfall near North Myrtle Beach as a minimal hurricane, with winds of 75 mph (121 km/h). Charley then began interacting with an approaching frontal boundary, becoming a tropical storm over southeastern North Carolina. After moving back into the Atlantic Ocean near Virginia Beach on August 15, the storm became and became embedded in the frontal zone. The extratropical storm continued to move rapidly to the northeast, and was completely absorbed by the front shortly after sunrise on August 15, near southeastern Massachusetts.