Hurricane season is now in session—and continues until November 30. This month we spotlight the most severe late–20th-century hurricanes.
In August 1954, Hurricane Carol caused 72 fatalities and $462 million in damage, making it at the time the costliest hurricane in U.S. history. Following the storm, the name “Carol” was retired, becoming the first name to be removed from the naming lists in the Atlantic basin.
While paralleling the mid-Atlantic and southeastern United States, the storm produced strong winds and rough seas that caused minor coastal flooding and slight damage to houses in North Carolina; Virginia; Washington, D.C.; Delaware; and New Jersey. The storm then accelerated north-northeastward, making landfall on eastern Long Island and then eastern Connecticut on August 31, with sustained winds estimated at 110 miles per hour.
Strong winds from Carol left about a half-million people on Long Island and in southern New England without power, downed many trees, and brought heavy crop losses.
In October 1954, Hurricane Hazel was the deadliest and costliest hurricane of the 1954 Atlantic hurricane season and the second storm to have its name retired. The storm killed at least 400 people in Haiti before striking the United States as a Category 4 hurricane near the border between North and South Carolina. After causing 95 fatalities in the United States, Hazel consolidated with a cold front in Pennsylvania and then struck Canada as an extratropical storm, raising the death toll by 81 people (mostly in Toronto).
Hitting long and hard in September 1960, Hurricane Donna holds the record for sustaining hurricane status for 17 days, as it had separate landfalls in the Florida Keys; Fort Myers, Florida; Topsail Island, North Carolina; and Long Island, New York, before finally moving through New England. Donna had wind gusts ranging as high as 200 mph, killed 50 people, and caused more than $1 billion in damage. Most notably for me, Donna hit Queens, New York, where I lived, on the first day of school. My third-grade teacher was also named Donna, and I took that coincidence to be an omen for the coming school year.
Photos: The Aftermath of Hurricane Camille
Late in the evening on August 17 in 1969, Hurricane Camille made landfall along the Mississippi Gulf Coast near Waveland. Hurricane Camille was a Category 5 hurricane—one of only THREE Category 5 hurricanes ever to make landfall in the United States (with the other two being 1935 Labor Day Hurricane in the Florida Keys and Hurricane Andrew, which hit the Miami, FL area in 1992). Camille also ranks as the 2nd most intense hurricane (ranked by pressure) to strike the continental US with the 2 hurricanes listed above ranked 1 and 3, respectively.
Camille eventually killed 143 people near the Gulf Coast. Wind speeds at landfall were estimated at 180 mph, but actual maximum sustained winds will never be known, because the hurricane destroyed all of the wind-recording instruments in the landfall area. At the time, the total damage was around $1.4 billion, but if the same storm struck today, residents would face more than $20 billion in damages. Camille weakened to a tropical depression as it moved from Mississippi into Tennessee. It then brought 10 to as much as 31 inches of rain to West Virginia and Virginia, with most of the deluge occurring within 3 to 5 hours and bringing catastrophic flooding that killed another 113 people.
Only a Category 1 hurricane at its June 1972 landfall in Apalachicola, Florida, Hurricane Agnes did major damage. Agenes brought devastating floods to Pennsylvania and New York, killing 122 people and causing damage worth about $2.1 billion.
Photo: Hurricane Agnes Damage in Richmond Virginia
Hurricane Hugo came ashore in September 1989 near Charleston, South Carolina, as a Category 4 hurricane with 135-mph winds, killing 21 people and causing an estimated $7 billion in damage. This made Hugo the third costliest hurricane on record in the United States.
Hurricane Andrew struck Dade County, Florida, on August 24, 1992, devastating South Florida with 165-mph winds, killing 23, and causing $26.5 billion in damage. Andrew produced a 17-foot storm surge near its landfall point in Florida and then crossed into the Gulf of Mexico before making a second landfall along the central Louisiana coast as a Category 3 hurricane. Andrew then turned northeastward, eventually merging with a frontal system over the mid-Atlantic states.
- Worst Hurricanes in American History (Part I): Hurricanes of the Early 1900s
- Worst Hurricanes in American History (Part III): Hurricanes of the Early 2000s
Also, don’t miss this year’s hurricane forecast!