Camille of 1969 Downgraded to Second Strongest Landfalling U.S. Hurricane

By Dr. Jeff Masters
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Published: 2:48 PM GMT on April 02, 2014

On the night of August 17, 1969, mighty Category 5 Hurricane Camille smashed into the Mississippi coast with incredible fury, bringing the largest U.S. storm surge on record--an astonishing 24.6 feet in Pass Christian, Mississippi (a record since beaten by 2005's Hurricane Katrina.) Camille barreled up the East Coast and dumped prodigious rains of 12 - 20 inches with isolated amounts up to 31" over Virginia and West Virginia, with most of the rain falling in just 3 - 5 hours. The catastrophic flash flooding that resulted killed 113 people, and the 143 people the storm killed on the Gulf Coast brought Camille's death toll to 256, making it the 15th deadliest hurricane in U.S. history. Up until now, Camille's landfall intensity had been rated at 190 mph--the highest on record for an Atlantic hurricane, and second highest on record globally, behind Super Typhoon Haiyan's 195 mph winds at landfall in the Philippines in November 2013. However, Camille's landfall intensity has now been officially downgraded to 175 mph, thanks to a reanalysis effort by Margie Kieper and Hugh Willoughby of Florida International University and Chris Landsea and Jack Beven of NHC. Camille's central pressure at landfall was lowered from the previous 909 mb to 900 mb, though. The re-analysis results, presented Tuesday at the American Meteorological Society's 31st Conference on Hurricanes and Tropical Meteorology , puts Camille in second place for the strongest landfalling hurricane in U.S. history. The top spot is now held by the Great 1935 Labor Day Hurricane that hit the Florida Keys, which reanalysis showed had 185 mph winds and a central pressure of 892 mb at landfall. The only other Category 5 hurricanes on record to hit the U.S. were 1992's Hurricane Andrew (165 mph winds and a 922 mb central pressure) and the 1928 “San Felipe” Hurricane in Puerto Rico (160 mph winds, 931 mb central pressure.) Category 5 hurricanes have maximum sustained winds of 156 mph or greater. Revisions to Camille were accomplished by obtaining the original observations from ships, weather stations, coastal radars, Navy/Air Force/Environmental Science Services Administration (ESSA) Hurricane Hunter aircraft reconnaissance planes, ESSA/NASA satellite imagery, and by analyzing Camille based upon our understanding of hurricanes today. (ESSA is now the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration--NOAA.)


Figure 1. Hurricane Camille as seen on Sunday, August 17, 1969, about eight hours before making landfall on the Mississippi coast. At the time, Camille was a peak-strength Category 5 storm with 175 mph winds. Image credit: NOAA/NCDC.


Figure 2. Ships beached by Hurricane Camille's record storm surge in Mississippi. Image credit: NOAA photo library.

Hurricane Audrey of 1957 Downgraded to a Category 3
A reanalysis effort on the 1955 - 1964 Atlantic hurricane seasons is also underway, and Sandy Delgado of the Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies (CIMAS) in Miami, FL reported on Tuesday that Hurricane Audrey, which had previously been rated as the only June Category 4 Atlantic hurricane, has now lost that distinction. Audrey's top winds at landfall were downgraded to Category 3 status, from 145 mph to 120 mph, which still makes it the strongest landfalling June Atlantic hurricane on record (though Hurricane Alma passed just west of Key West on June 8, 1966 as a Category 3 storm with 125 mph winds.) Audrey killed 416 people in Texas and Louisiana, making it the 7th deadliest hurricane in U.S. history. Delgado's analysis also found twelve previously unrecognized tropical storms from the 1955 - 1964 period.


Figure 3. Hurricane Audrey near landfall on June 27, 1957. At the time, Audrey was a Category 3 storm with 120 mph winds. Image credit: NOAA.

Reanalysis of 1946 - 1950 hurricanes completed
HURDAT, the official Atlantic hurricane database, has now been updated with a reanalysis of the 1946 to 1950 hurricane seasons. This was an active period for hurricanes, with 13 striking the continental United States (an average five year span would have about nine U.S. hurricane impacts.) Five of the 13 were major hurricanes at U.S. landfall, and all five struck Florida. These are a Category 4 hurricane in Fort Lauderdale in 1947, a Category 4 hurricane in Everglades City in 1948, a Category 4 hurricane in Lake Worth in 1949, Category 3 Hurricane Easy in Cedar Key in 1950, and Category 4 Hurricane King in Miami in 1950. Of these, King and the 1948 and 1949 hurricanes were upgraded from a Category 3 to a Category 4 based upon the reanalysis. Having five major hurricanes making landfall in Florida is a record for a five year period, equaled only by the early 2000s. In addition, nine new tropical storms were discovered and added into the database for this five year period. The number of major hurricanes for 1950 was reduced from eight to six, putting that year in second place for the most major hurricanes in one year. The record is now held by 2005, with seven major hurricanes (Dennis, Emily, Katrina, Maria, Rita, Wilma, Beta; thanks go to Mark Cole for bringing this stat to my attention.) Andrew Hagen, Donna Sakoskie, Daniel Gladstein, Sandy Delgado, Astryd Rodriguez, Chris Landsea and the NHC Best Track Change Committee all made substantial contributions toward the reanalysis of the 1946 - 1950 hurricane seasons.

Jeff Masters

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About The Author
Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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Camille of 1969 Downgraded to Second Strongest Landfalling U.S. Hurricane

On the night of August 17, 1969, mighty Category 5 Hurricane Camille smashed into the Mississippi coast with incredible fury, bringing the largest U.S. storm surge on record--an astonishing 24.6 feet in Pass Christian, Mississippi (a record since beaten by 2005's Hurricane Katrina.) Camille barreled up the East Coast and dumped prodigious rains of 12 - 20 inches with isolated amounts up to 31" over Virginia and West Virginia, with most of the rain falling in just 3 ...

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