Category: Weather History
On September 3, 1919, a hurricane was detected in the Caribbean. Forecasters at the U.S. Weather Bureau had no idea that it would become one of the largest and strongest storms ever to affect the United States.
As it moved over the eastern Bahamas, weather reports from Nassau ceased. Forecasters issued warnings for the coast of Southeast Florida.
But by the afternoon of September 9th, it was evident that the storm was in the Florida Straits. Warnings were posted, but there was no time to do anything. About midnight, the center passed just thirty miles south of Key West. The highest winds were not measured because the equipment was destroyed five hours before the peak of the storm arrived. Key West experienced sustained tropical storm force winds for thirty eight straight hours.
A pressure of 27.37 inches (927 mb) was observed on a ship near the Dry Tortugas, and this measurement is the basis for making the Great Hurricane of Sept 1919 the sixth strongest ever to hit the U.S.
As the hurricane moved slowly into the Gulf, it was not clear where it would eventually make landfall. (Sound familiar?) Storm warnings were issued for Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, then extended to the Texas coast. On t he 12th, it was believed the hurricane would hit Louisiana. High tides and winds were being experienced all around the Gulf, including Tampa, Pensacola, and the Louisiana coast.
Mindful of their tragic past, residents of Galveston prepared well in advance. Finally, on the 14th, the hurricane came ashore near Corpus Christi. Abut 600 deaths were reported in the United States.
In Key West, Sister Gabriel and the Nuns at St. Mary’s Star of the Sea Catholic Church created a stone shrine. When she blessed the grotto, she vowed that Key West would never experience the full brunt of a hurricane. Since then no Key West resident has died in a hurricane. A total of 2,500 people are estimated to have died in the
On this date in 1992, Hurricane Andrew made landfall in southern Dade County Florida near Homestead around 5am.
The storm had the fourth lowest pressure ever recorded in a landfalling United States Hurricane (922 mb). Only Camille (1969), the Labor Day Storm (1935) and Katrina (2005) were stronger.
Originally classified as a Category 4 storm, Andrew was upgraded to a Category 5 storm ten years later based on new research data.
The storm was intensifying at landfall, as evidenced by final reconnaissance report of a central pressure of 930 mb followed by the land observation of 922 mb. Intensifying tropical cyclones are generally accompanied by increasing winds. The storm had maximum winds at landfall of 145 mph with gusts to 175 mph. The storm surge peaked at 16.9 feet in Biscayne Bay, which was a record for South Florida.
Before Andrew, South Florida had been spared from a major hurricane for some 27 years. Andrew ranks first in all time damage, with losses in Florida totaling at least $25 billion. Some estimates range as high as $40 billion.
Homestead AFB was wiped off the face of the earth. Up to 250,000 people were left at least temporarily homeless in south Florida. 63,000 homes were destroyed. 110,000 homes were damaged.
Fifteen deaths in Florida were directly attributable to Andrew, with another 29 as an indirect result of the storm.
As bad as Hurricane Andrew was, it could have been worse. If the hurricane had struck land 20 miles further north where over a third of the population ignored calls to evacuate, the death toll would have been substantially higher and the damage total even more immense.
Andrew would cross the Florida peninsula during the day and emerge in the Gulf of Mexico heading for Louisiana.
I remember this date 44 years ago very vividly. It is one of my, if not my earliest weather memories. Hurricane Camille was a monster in the Gulf of Mexico. We had no Weather Channel, no internet, not even Weatheradio to track the storm’s progress. News came in little bits and pieces via radio and television. You knew it was going to be bad, but no one knew how bad it would be. As we drove to church that Sunday, I remember hearing one of those news reports on the radio. There was a deep upper trough over Arkansas and a surface low over western Illinois. In Birmingham, it was cloudy and muggy that morning. At 6 a.m., it was 75F with a humid 72F dewpoint. Our winds were calm, and the barometer was actually rising. Along the coast, it was a different story, as barometers were starting to drop like a rock.
Camille was actually a very small storm, with hurricane force winds that morning only extending out 40 miles in three quadrants, and 60 miles in the stronger northeast quadrant. Early that morning, winds at Mobile were blowing out of the northeast at only 10 mph. But near the center, maximum winds were already 160 mph and they were increasing. By mid-afternoon, a critical Air Force mission would find a pressure of 905 millibars and 190 mph winds. Camille would make landfall on the Mississippi Coast before midnight that August 17th night in 1969. The devastation was incredible.
A couple of years ago, Ken Harness supplied this account about Hurricane Camille:
Forty-three years is a long time, I hope that I can remember enough of my experience of before, during, and after the storm. I remember waking up early on the morning of the 16th of Aug. to the T.V. on in the living room. I went into the room, and my dad was sitting on the couch leaning over a paper hurricane tracking map that was on the coffee table. He had been tracking the storm for a few days, and was watching Nash Roberts on WWL out of New Orleans. Nash gave a set of coordinates and my dad plotted them on the map dropped his pencil and said “it’s coming right down our throats”.
This began our plan of action, we went to a lumber yard and got some ply wood to board up the windows with and a large roll of heavy plastic ( they didn’t sell tarps like we use today). We had the tarp and a staple gun just in case the roof came off. We had moved to Biloxi two weeks after Hurricane Betsy in 1965, so we did not know what to actually expect during a storm like this. After getting non-perishable food and gas in both vehicles, we bought a generator and a couple of gas cans. We also had some large metal awnings around the house so my dad had the idea to try concrete blocks to them to try and hold them down. It didn’t work on all of them some tore off and flew across the top of the house into neighbors yards. We also got a chain saw as we had seven large Southern pines in the front yard along with a 100+ year old Oak tree.
As we settled in for what was to come, my dad said that he had decided that we would go to the shelter at the element school and as we got there he told us the he was going back home to ride out the storm with the dog and to try and take care of the house. Then the “fun” began. I witnessed a tornado traveling down the main road exploding transformers as it went, all types of items flying through the air on the 200 mph winds and the next day saw destruction like I had never seen before. Luckily our house survived, but we spent the next 10 days without power, or running water. The sight of several feet of sand on Hwy. 90 and the two banana cargo ships washed ashore are forever etched in my memory.
My mother still lives in the same house, and has witnessed every storm since including Katrina. She will tell you that it never gets any easier to “ride one out”, but she will never leave her beloved Miss. Gulf Coast.
Isle Derniere, or Last Island, was a tiny resort on the Lousiana coast, about 110 miles southwest of New Orleans. The small spit of land was just 22 miles long and less than one mile wide in most places. At its highest point, the island was less than 6 feet above the Gulf of Mexico.
The island had 20 small cottages and a two story hotel, called Muggah’s Hotel. Many prominent Louisiana families vacationed there to enjoy the cool breezes off the Gulf of Mexico. They were shuttled to and from the island by a steamboat named The Star.
By Saturday, August 9, 1856, the signs of an approaching hurricane were apparent, including roaring breakers that pounded the shore and a brilliant sunset. A total of 413 people were staying on the island.
By late morning on Sunday morning the 10th, the waters of the Gulf of Mexico were rising rapidly. Evacuation was impossible, as the pounding surf had destroyed the wooden docks of the ferry landing. By noon, the wind had increased and the surf was rapidly moving further and further up the beach.
Winds mounted to hurricane force by mid-afternoon and a storm surge rushed across the island. Survivors from the island huddled in the hotel, but it gradually was breaking apart. The Star picked up survivors and the ship escaped being sunk by the fearsome storm when the Captain ordered the upper woodwork of the top deck torn away.
A total of 140 people perished in the storm. Today all you will find of Last Island are pelicans and other birds on a few sand spits.
The weather forecast for Johnstown, PA on July 19, 1977 called for a 30 percent chance of thundershowers. Forecasters knew that it would take less than four inches of rain in three hours to cause flash flooding, but no flash flood watches were in effect despite the fact that a warm, moist airmass was in place over western Pennsylvania and a complex of thunderstorms was heading into the teeth of the unstable air.
Johnstown is famous for one thing: floods. There was the legendary 1889 flood which killed over 2,200 that was caused by days of heavy rain weakening and eventually breaking a dam in the hills above the town. A wall of water rushed down the narrow valley on that fateful day, causing historic death and devastation.
A warm Spring storm system in 1936 caused rapid snow melt and three days of heavy rain that resulted in another devastating flood that killed 24 people. A massive public works project rebuilt the town and the Corps of Engineers channeled the rivers through the town, increasing the capacity and making the city “flood proof”.
Over forty years later, residents went about their business on that sultry Tuesday evening, impressed by the dazzling lightning show over the Valley but confident that the flood defenses would protect them. Unbelievably, in a city with this kind of flood history, there was no local flood observation and warning system.
The National Weather Service in Pittsburgh had no idea that up to 12 inches of rain was falling in Johnstown. Information from the two rain gauges there was not communicated to forecasters. There was a river gauge, but it had to be interrogated by telephone, and the storm knocked phone systems out. Lightning knocked out police communications. Forecasters did not use radar data then to estimate rainfall amounts.
As torrential rains fell starting about 7 p.m., water rushed down hillsides and swelled streams. For nine hours, thunderstorms reformed over the same areas, dumping more heavy rain. Cars and houses started to be washed into the maelstrom. Bridges buckled in the fast flows. Flood waters rose.
But no warning was forthcoming. By 2 a.m., the NWS was receiving reports that flooding was occurring in Johnstown. At 2:30, a Johnstown radio station called to see if a warning had been issued. Only then was a flash flood warning posted.
By dawn, Johnstown was under six feet of water, with 64% of the town flooded. A total of 76 people died and 10 were not found. A total of 2,700 people were injured in the 500 year flood.