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What's the hurricane history?

Until a hurricane actually makes landfall, no one can say for certain what, if anything, will happen but what does history show?

BY TRAVIS DUNN | BALTIMORE | September 17, 2003


"Isabel's current course has drawn some comparison to the trajectory of Hurricane Hazel."

Until a hurricane makes landfall, no one can say what will happen but what does history show? As Hurricane Isabel, which has gone from Category 5 to Category 2 on the Saffir-Simpson scale, makes a beeline for North Carolina's Outer Banks of North Carolina, coastal residents from Cape Hatteras to Massachusetts are wondering what exactly they should expect.

History provides more than a few examples, and some of them have some eerie similarities to Isabel's speed and position.

Here are some of the worst storms to hit the mid-Atlantic in the first half of the 20th century:

Hurricane Carol

In 1954, this Category 3 storm killed 65 people and caused considerable damage in New England. Like the "Long Island Express" which struck in 1938, this storm moved very quickly, at speeds exceeding 35 mph. The storm hit just after high tide, causing a tidal surge of five to 15 feet along the Connecticut shoreline. Almost 4,000 homes were destroyed, as well as 3,500 vehicles and more than 3,000 boats. Downtown Providence, R.I., was submerged under 12 feet of water. Block Island, R.I., measured wind gusts of 135 mph, the strongest ever recorded there. The storm caused about $320 million in damage.

Hurricane Hazel

Isabel's current course has drawn some comparison to Hurricane Hazel's trajectory in 1954. After tearing up the Caribbean islands Haiti in particular -- Hazel made landfall in North Carolina. Today, North Carolinians are no doubt hoping Isabel is nothing like Hazel, which was the most destructive hurricane ever to hit that state.

But there are already indications that North Carolina may be in for a rough ride with Isabel. At its current course and speed, Isabel will make landfall just after high tide which would make the resulting storm surge even worse. Hazel also hit at high tide the highest lunar tide of the year, which generated a surge that rose up to 18 feet.

For those who think northern inland cities are safe from hurricanes, Hazel provides an example to the contrary. After dealing out severe damage to the Carolinas, Hazel weakened as it moved through the Appalachians. On Oct. 10, 1954, Hazel dropped to a Category 3 storm, and it dropped another category as it moved northward.

But Hazel wasn't finished yet. Hazel has already hoodwinked meteorologists by constantly shifting direction and stumping forecasters. Instead of fading out with a whimper, Hazel came back with a bang. On Oct. 14, Hazel combined with an eastward-moving low-pressure system, which jacked it back up to a Category 4 storm. Hazel then hit Toronto, causing the worst storm damage that city has ever seen. At least 80 people were killed.

The Long Island Express

This 1938 storm, a Category 3, was one of the most rapidly moving Atlantic hurricanes ever, traveling faster than 35 mph. It killed about 300 people and caused $306 million in damage (1938 dollars), much of it in New England.

The Chesapeake-Potomac Hurricane

This Category 4 storm struck in 1933 during the height of the Great Depression. It also occurred during the most active tropical storm season on record for the Atlantic region 21 tropical storms and hurricanes were recorded that year. Storm surges sent the Chesapeake Bay level from six to nine feet. The hurricane passed directly over Norfolk, Va., and Washington, D.C.

Aug. 22, 1893

This storm made a direct hit on New York City as a Category 1 storm, while another one of these storms, a Category 3, hit Georgia and South Carolina and killed nearly 2,000 people. The 1890s proved to be one of the most active hurricane-decade ever, with most of the storms striking the southern U.S.

Gale of 1878

A massive storm that left 71 people dead and caused more than $2 million dollars in damage (1878 dollars) in Philadelphia. The entire eastern seaboard, as far north as southern Maine, was affected.

September 1854

Damage was felt from this storm all the way from Florida to New York.

August 1850

This powerful storm caused damage all along the eastern seaboard, from Georgia through New England.

July 1850

Flooding was extensive in both the Chesapeake and Delaware bays, and the storm ended up in central New York state.

The Great Havana Hurricane

Striking the Florida Keys on Oct. 12, 1846, this hurricane caused damage that extended to New York City. Baltimore and Philadelphia were also affected.

October 1841

This hurricane wreaked havoc on eastern New England, and triggered a major snow and sleet storm which buried New Haven, Connecticut.

June 1825

A good portion of the East Coast, beginning with Florida and ending with New York City, was affected by this hurricane. Norfolk, Va., was hit for 27 hours straight.

The Long Island Hurricane

Less than a half-dozen homes were left standing in Currituck, N.C. after this storm blasted in September 1821. The hurricane traveled at such a high rate of speed that it covered the distance between Puerto Rico and Norfolk in two days. The storm received its name from the blow it dealt Long Island, New York.

The Long Island Hurricane

New England's Snow Hurricane of 1804 This storm not only damaged the Chesapeake Bay, as well as Philadelphia, New York City and Boston, but it also touched off a massive snow storm that dropped more than two feet of snow on the Berkshires.

George Washington's Hurricane

George Washington's Hurricane This storm, of late July 1788, got its nickname from a trajectory which sent it directly over George Washington's Mount Vernon estate. This storm's path was very similar to that of the Chesapeake-Potomac Hurricane.

September 1785

This hurricane, like George Washington's Hurricane, followed a similar path to the Chesapeake-Potomac Hurricane, and caused a great deal of damage to the lower Chesapeake Bay. Norfolk recorded the highest tide that city had ever experienced. The storm continued north along the coastline to Boston.

The Independence Hurricane of 1775

This storm, in late October and early September, ripped up the Atlantic coast from Currituck, N.C., to Chicoteague, Va., and traveled as far north as Newfoundland.

September 1769

This hurricane was one of the worst to hit the Cheseapeake during the 18th century, and it passed directly over Williamsburg, causing considerable damage there. Heavy damage was reported around the entire Chesapeake Bay.

September 1761

This powerful storm hit both North Carolina and Virginia, and reshaped the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

The October Hurricane of 1749

This storm caused a massive storm surge in the Chesapeake Bay the water rose 15 feet between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Oct. 19. The damage to tidewater Virginia was catastrophic 22 people died and the port of Norfolk incurred $3 million at a time when Norfolk was far less populous than today.

"The Great Gust of 1724"

This storm, on Aug. 23, 1724, was remarkable in its effects on agriculture: nearly all the tobacco crops in the Chesapeake Bay region were destroyed, and corn crops also incurred heavy damage. As John Custis IV of Williamsburg wrote to his brother-in-law William Byrd II, "We have had such a violent flood of rain and prodigious gust of wind the like I do not believe never happened since the universal deluge (sic)."


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