This past week 50 years ago, Hurricane Camille smashed into the Mississippi Gulf Coast killing 259 people and causing devastation and destruction. Winds from the storm were estimated at 175 miles per hour, but true readings of the wind were not available since wind measuring equipment in the area of landfall were also destroyed.
The central barometric pressure from the storm fell to an astonishing 26.50 inches. The only lower reading recorded in the United States was from the Labor Day hurricane of 1935 when a central pressure of 26.34 was measured. Lines of equal barometer pressure are called isobars and the closer together the lower the pressure and the worse the winds. Estimated winds with this storm were 185 mph. Camille had another go at death and destruction as she herself was dying out over the mountains of Southwestern Virginia. Over 25 inches of rain caused widespread flooding and killed another 100 people.
Probably the worst storm in U.S. history was the Galveston hurricane of 1900. The storm hit the city with almost no warning killing an estimated 10,000 residents and destroyed much of the city. This was in the day before radar and satellites and very little advance weather information was available. There were reports that the same storm had caused destruction and death on the in Cuba but these were discounted because of the nice tranquil weather Galveston was enjoying before the storm hit.
The U.S. Weather bureau as it was called before it became known as NOAA was responsible for naming hurricanes after 1950. After trying the phonetic alphabet for a few years, they decided to use women’s names for their storms. Men complained and in 1978 male names were included.
There have been many bad storms over the years; Carol, Diane, and Hazel and Katrina are some of the female names that I remember. Hazel brought widespread flooding even to Pennsylvania and we all remember the destruction and loss of life accompanying Katrina in New Orleans.
Hurricane Marie in 2017 killed over 5,000 according to the New England journal of Medicine and devastated the island of Puerto Rico. Mitch, Harvey, Michael were some of the memorable male names and Hurricane Floyd chased our family off the Outer Banks and taught us a whole lot about evacuations as thousands became stranded for days on our interstates fleeing the storm.
Another storm to affect Southwestern Pennsylvania and the Pittsburgh region was Hurricane Agnes in 1972. Agnes brought torrential amounts of rain and a five-day dance of havoc to the area on top of a saturated ground and caused widespread flooding. Thanks to a series of flood control dams built after the flood of 1936, the Pittsburgh Downtown area would have had two feet more water than the famous 1936 flood according to an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
So far this year, it has been on the quiet side with only Hurricane Barry bringing some flooding from heavy rains. The list of names is impressive. You can check for your name at nhc.noaa.gov. As of Tuesday of this week, there are no major storms to worry about, but that will likely change as we move into September as the peak of the Atlantic Hurricane season is mid-September.
Forecasts have improved and today the Hurricane center can spot potential storms a week or two out and then track their path with time to warn people to get out of harm’s way.