A Bullet Dodged – 1974’s Carmen and New Orleans

| September 6, 2008 @ 11:15 pm | 1 Reply

1974’s Hurricane Carmen is one of the storms that I remember most from my childhood. On Friday, September 6th, I was a seventh grader starved for any kind of weather information and a storm like Carmen generated a lot of interest.

I tracked each and every advisory in my World Book Atlas and wondered if it would affect us in Birmingham. That might, the pressure fell to 967 millibars over the Central Gulf some 300 miles south of New Orleans. It was moving due north very slowly. Winds increased to 115 mph. More intensification was expected. I listed to WWL until morning robbed me of the signal.

By morning, the center of the 950 millibar hurricane was less than 200 miles south of New Orleans, still moving due north. Top winds were 125 mph. We didn’t know about the Saffir Simpson Hurricane Scale in 1974, but it was on the verge of being a category four. By noon, the pressure was 944 millibars. On the 7 p.m. advisory, it was a Category Four with top winds of 150 mph. The pressure had bottomed out at 937 millibars. I thought we might be watching another Camille situation unfold.

But inexplicably during the night, the hurricane began to weaken and turned to the west in the hours before landfall. It came ashore during the predawn hours near Morgan City, Louisiana. In 1974, there was no Internet or Weather Channel or ABC3340 blog and the attendant constant flow of information about the storm. There was no Jim Cantore or Stephanie Abrams or Brian Peters to chronicle the hurricane’s every move with their satellite trucks. Carmen had fizzled. Cooler, dry air had entered the circulation and weakened the storm.

The highest wind observed on land was 75 knots at Morgan City, near where the storm made landfall. I never realized what a bullet Louisiana had dodged. Only 75,000 people evacuated in the face of the storm. Knowing what we know today, a storm of this magnitude would have sent nearly two million people scrambling.

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About the Author ()

Bill Murray is the President of The Weather Factory. He is the site's official weather historian and a weekend forecaster. He also anchors the site's severe weather coverage. Bill Murray is the proud holder of National Weather Association Digital Seal #0001 @wxhistorian

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