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Memorable Gulf Coast Hurricanes Of the 20th Century

Aug 7, 2021

Image: Hurricane Andrew strikes' 1992 -
Since 1900, hurricanes striking the United States bordering the Gulf of Mexico have killed more than 9,000 people and caused tremendous damage. When adjusted to 1990 dollars, the cost of damages inflicted by those storms is more than $30 billion. These Gulf coast storms are those that strike from Florida's west coast to Brownsville, TX. The word "memorable" is indicative of some of the most deadly and costly storms. The storms described below are subjective and not intended to be all inclusive.
Hurricanes are designated in 5 categories according to the Saffir/Simpson Scale: Category 1: 74-95 mph winds, Category 2: 96-110 mph winds, Category 3: 111-130 mph winds, Category 4: 131-155 mph winds, and Category 5: winds greater than 155 mph.
This summary was written by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ( and was last revised in 1993.
1900 -1950
During this time, areas on the Gulf of Mexico, like those on the Atlantic Coast, experienced some of the most intense hurricanes of this century.
1900: Known as "the Galveston Hurricane," the deadliest hurricane disaster in U.S. history occurred on September 8. More than 6,000 people died when hurricane storm tides (the surge plus the astronomical tide) of 8-15 feet inundated the entire island city of Galveston, TX. More than half of all the homes and buildings were destroyed. Property damage is estimated at $700 million in 1990 dollars.
1906: The second September storm of 1906 was one of great violence. On the 27th the hurricane reached the middle Gulf Coast. Destructive winds and unprecedented tides accompanied the storm. At Pensacola, FL, the tide was 10 feet above normal. It was said to have been the most violent storm there in 170 years. At Mobile, AL property damage was severe. The storm's tide was 9.9 feet above normal. A total of 134 lives were lost from Pensacola, FL to Mississippi in this storm.
1909: 1909 was a very active year. Out of 12 tropical cyclones, four were hurricanes. On July 20th, a hurricane passed directly over Velasco, TX. There, the calm center lasted 45 minutes, and was followed by devastating winds on the other side which destroyed one-half of the town. In August, a very violent hurricane raked Haiti, caused high winds and rains in Cuba, and entered the Yucatan Channel on August 25. As the storm approached the Mexican coast it caused gales and tremendous seas along the Texas coast. It went to Northeastern Mexico causing an enormous loss of life and property. Unofficial estimates placed the Mexican death toll at 1,500 as a result of floods and mud slides. On September 20, 1909, another intense hurricane crossed the middle Gulf Coast passing about 50 miles west of New Orleans, LA. at 8 p.m. A wide portion of the Louisiana coast was inundated. About 350 lives were lost in Louisiana and Mississippi. It was the same intensity as "the Galveston Hurricane" of 1900 (931) millibars (mb)). [A millibar is a unit of atmospheric pressure equal to .0295 inches of mercury.]
1915: On August 16, Galveston, TX was the site of a very large and violent storm. Despite a 10 foot high sea wall built after the 1900 hurricane, storm tides 12 feet above normal flooded the business district to a depth of six feet. 275 people lost their lives from a combination of high water and strong winds. On September 29, another ferocious hurricane of similar intensity to the August storm occurred, reaching the Louisiana coast. At Burrwood, LA, winds were clocked at 125-140 miles per hour. As many as 90% of the buildings were destroyed. At several places on the Mississippi River below New Orleans and on Lake Pontchartrain, LA. an estimated 275 lives were lost despite advanced warnings.
1919: The fourth most intense and deadly storm of the 20th century passed near Key West, FL on September 9-10. The slow moving storm reached an intensity of 27.37 inches (927 mb) in the vicinity of the Dry Tortugas--Florida islands 65 miles west of Key West. Ten vessels were lost at sea accounting for more than 500 of the 800-900 deaths. The hurricane continued slowly westward and on September 14, the center went inland south of Corpus Christi, TX. There, tides rose 16 feet above normal and another 287 lives were lost.
1947: The most severe hurricane of the 1947 season crossed over Florida and hit Louisiana and Mississippi. The center of the very large and intense storm hit Hillsboro Light, FL, on September 17 with winds of 155 mph. After leaving Florida, the huge hurricane took a northwesterly course over the Gulf of Mexico and onto the Mississippi and Louisiana coasts. Tides rose to 12 feet at Biloxi, Bay St. Louis, and Gulfport, MS. The eye of the storm passed directly over New Orleans, LA, and was estimated at 25 miles in diameter. A total of 51 lives were lost--17 in Florida, 12 in Louisiana and 22 in Mississippi. Total damage was more than $700 million (in 1990 dollars).
1950 - 1959
Despite a good number of hurricanes and tropical storms to hit the Gulf Coast in the '50s, Audrey, the first hurricane of 1957 was the most memorable.
Hurricane Audrey, June 27. 1957: Hurricane Audrey made landfall near the Texas-Louisiana border on June 27th with devastating effects. Its central pressure deepened considerably in the last five hours before landfall. There were 390 deaths as the result of a storm surge in excess of 12 feet, which inundated the flat coast of Louisiana as far as 25 miles inland in some places. Damages were estimated at about $700 million (in 1990 dollars).
1960 - 1969
This decade brought some of the most destructive storms of the century. Some of the most memorable are Carla, Hilda, Betsy, Beulah, and Camille. Camille was the 2nd most intense hurricane to strike the mainland this century, second only to the 1935 Labor Day hurricane in the Florida Keys.
Hurricane Carla, September 10. 1961: Hurricane Carla was the largest and most intense Gulf Coast hurricane in decades. On September 8, Carla's center took aim at the Texas coast. By the 9th, Carla's circulation enveloped the entire Gulf of Mexico with fringe effects along all Gulf Coast states. On the 9th, the largest mass evacuation to that date occurred, as an estimated one-half million residents of low coastal areas and islands off Texas and Louisiana were evacuated to higher ground. As the center approached Texas on the 10th, winds near the center were estimated at 150 mph. Reconnaissance aircraft indicated a central pressure of 931 mb just prior to its striking the coast. Only 46 lost their lives because of early warnings. Severe damage along a wide expanse of the Texas coast was caused by unusually prolonged winds, high tides and flooding from torrential rains. Damage was about $2 billion in 1990 dollars.
Hurricane Hilda, October 3. 1964: Hurricane Hilda developed in the western Caribbean Sea and reached storm intensity as it crossed the western tip of Cuba. Hilda reached maximum intensity about 350 miles south of New Orleans on October 1. On the morning of October 3rd, several tornadoes occurred in southeastern Louisiana in pre-hurricane squall lines. One tornado at Larose, LA, killed 22 and injured 200 people. Three other tornadoes caused much damage in the New Orleans metropolitan area but no deaths. Hurricane Hilda's highest wind reported was an estimated 135 mph at Franklin, La. the lowest pressure was 28.05 inches (950 mb). Almost a complete evacuation of the entire Louisiana coast accounts for the low death toll of 38 including the tornado fatalities.
Hurricane Betsy, September 8-9, 1965: Betsy developed from a tropical depression on August 26 east of the Windward Islands and intensified as it moved west. On September 2nd, the central pressure fell to 27.82 inches (942 mb)--the lowest recorded during the life of the storm. Warnings to the Bahamas were posted on September 5 and southern Florida was warned on the 10th. Betsy moved south through the Bahamas, then west over the Florida Keys. Damage from winds, high tides and wave action was confined to an area from Ft. Lauderdale, FL southward. Flooding over the upper Keys was extensive.
Betsy turned to the northwest upon entering the Gulf of Mexico and its forward speed increased to 22 mph. The eye arrived at Grand Isle, LA, the evening of September 9th. The eye was 40 miles in diameter on the Louisiana coast.
Great devastation was caused by high water on the central Gulf Coast from the point where the center made landfall to Mobile, Alabama. Evacuation advice prompted 300,000 people in Louisiana to seek safe shelter. However, 58 people lost their lives because of winds and floods in that state. There were four deaths in Florida; other lives were lost in the adjacent waters of the Gulf and the Atlantic. The total of 75 deaths in Betsy was the greatest loss of life along the Gulf coast since Audrey in 1957. Highest sustained winds of 136 mph were recorded at Port Sulphur, LA, with gusts to 160 mph reported along the Gulf Coast. Betsy's damages in 1990 dollars, amount to $6.5 billion, the third costliest U.S. hurricane of the 20th Century. Only the Atlantic coast's Hugo (1989) and Andrew (1992), with more than $7 billion, and $25 billion respectively, exceed Betsy's devastation.
Hurricane Beulah, 1967: Beulah developed off the African coast and became a hurricane in the eastern Caribbean Sea on the 8th. From September 10th to 13th it weakened greatly and was downgraded to a tropical storm. However, on the 14th, it regained hurricane status again, turned toward the northwest and headed for the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. It made landfall at Cozumel on the 16th, and entered the southwestern Gulf of Mexico on the 17th. On the 19th, it intensified, and reconnaissance aircraft recorded a central pressure of 920 mb or 27.17 inches. It continued moving northwest and made landfall between Brownsville, TX and the mouth of the Rio Grande about daybreak on September 20. A ship at anchor in Port Brownsville reported winds of 136 mph.
Beulah's strength was seen in the impact the storm's surge had along Padre Island, TX. A total of 31 cuts were observed through the island in the portion extending south from a point 30 miles south of Corpus Christi, TX. A cut is a new channel through a barrier island. The storm surge was found to have reached a height of at least 18 feet. Torrential rains fell in southern Texas, with amounts ranging from 10 to 20 inches. Beulah also spawned an unsurpassed number of tornadoes, but most were small and occurred in rural areas.
The death toll from Beulah reached 15 in Texas--5 from tornadoes and 10 from flooding. Damage is estimated at about $900 million in 1990 dollars.
Hurricane Camille, August 17-19, 1969: Camille was born off the African coast on August 5th but didn't become a hurricane until the 15th.
Once into the Gulf of Mexico, the small, powerful hurricane intensified rapidly. By late afternoon on the 16th an Air Force reconnaissance plane measured a 905 mb pressure (26.72 inches) and winds of 160 mph, indicating a Category 5 hurricane, the most powerful on the Saffir/Simpson Scale.
Early on the 17th when Camille was centered 250 miles south of Mobile, AL, the Air Force team found a central pressure of 901 mb (26.61 inches) and maximum winds of more than 200 mph near the center. That pressure reading was second only to the Labor Day hurricane of 1935 in which a 26.35 inch (892 mb) pressure was recorded in the Florida Keys. Camille and the 1935 Keys storm are the only category 5 hurricanes to hit the U.S. this century. The lowest pressure ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere occurred during Hurricane Gilbert in 1988--888 mb (26.23 inches). The final death count for the U.S. is listed at 256. This includes the Gulf Coast and the Virginias--143 on the Gulf coast and another 113 from the Virginia floods. The damage in 1990 dollars is estimated at $5.2 billion. Camille was the 5th most costly storm in U.S. history, following Andrew, Hugo, Betsy, and Agnes.
1970 - 1979
Following the horror of 1969's Camille, this decade brought three devastating storms to the Gulf Coast: Celia, Eloise and Frederic. All have been retired into hurricane history.
Hurricane Celia, August 3, 1970: Hurricane Celia was one of the most destructive storms to ever hit Texas, with damages estimated at $1.6 billion (in 1990 dollars).
Celia became a hurricane on August 1 in the Gulf of Mexico and intensified rapidly in 15 hours before it crossed the coast north of Corpus Christi, TX. As it moved over land, spectacular damage occurred from a "cluster of high energy winds of short duration," (also called downbursts or microbursts). The extreme winds raked across the residential and business areas in less than half an hour. It was estimated that winds reached as high as 160 mph for several seconds. During those disastrous seconds, incredible damage occurred at the airport and an adjacent mobile home park which was completely demolished. Fortunately, only 11 died in the Corpus Christi area due to the state of preparedness by its disaster prevention agencies.
Hurricane Eloise, September 23, 1975: Eloise became a threat when it regained hurricane strength in the central Gulf of Mexico about 350 miles south of New Orleans, LA. It continued to strengthen until it made landfall about midway between Fort Walton Beach and Panama City, FL early on September 23. Winds were estimated at about 100 mph with storm tides of 12-16 feet above normal just east of Fort Walton Beach to Panama City. About $1 billion damage (in 1990 dollars) occurred along the 25 mile wide Panama City beach strip, mostly the result of the high tides undermining beachfront structures.
Hurricane Frederic, September 13, 1979: Frederic developed off the African coast on August 27, briefly became a hurricane on September 1, and then weakened to a tropical depression just north of Haiti.
Frederic began to strengthen on September 7 and regained tropical storm intensity on September 9 near western Cuba. Frederic then turned to the north northwest with increasing forward speed for the next 60 hours. The eye passed over Dauphin Island, AL on the 13th. The highest winds recorded on Dauphin Island were 120 mph with gusts to 145 mph. Tides of 8 to 12 feet above normal were reported in the hurricane warning area from Pascagoula, MS, to western Santa Rosa Island, AL. Storm tides were 12 feet at Gulf Shores, AL.
Advance preparedness activities by Alabama authorities kept the death toll to five with estimates of 350,000 persons evacuated from the threatened area.
1980 - 1989
Hurricanes Allen, Alicia and Elena were three of the most devastating Gulf Coast storms of the '80s. One hurricane that did not hit the U.S. coast, but caused at least $40 million in damages to Texas was Gilbert, one of the most powerful storms on record.
Hurricane Allen. August 9-10. 1980: When it was over the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Allen was one of the most intense hurricanes ever. Allen reached Category 5 status three times. It obtained a 911 mb (26.89 inches) central pressure in the eastern Caribbean on August 5 while south of Puerto Rico. After weakening near Haiti and Jamaica, Allen again strengthened and a minimum pressure of 899 mb (26.55 inches) was recorded by a NOAA aircraft on the 7th when it was off the Yucatan Peninsula. Only Hurricane Gilbert with the all time low pressure reading of 888 mb in 1988, and the infamous Labor Day hurricane of 1935 with a central pressure of 892 mb were lower than Allen's 899 mb central pressure. Allen lost strength again near the Yucatan Peninsula but regained it over the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico with a central pressure of 909 mb (26.84 inches) on 9th.
The center of Allen did not cross any land until it moved inland north of Brownsville, TX on the 9th. Just off the Texas coast, Allen hesitated long enough to weaken to 945 mb (27.91 inches), and then moved inland north of Brownsville bringing highest tides and winds over the least populated section of the Texas coast.
Only two deaths were directly attributed to Allen. The strongest measured winds were gusts to 129 mph at Port Mansfield, TX. A storm surge up to 12 feet along Padre Island caused numerous barrier island cuts and washouts.
Hurricane Alicia, August 18, 1983: Alicia was the first hurricane to strike the Continental U.S. since Allen in 1980. It was the longest period in this century that the U.S. mainland had gone without a hurricane landfall (though tropical storms did hit within that time).
Alicia was a small to medium size hurricane. It reached a minimal Category 3 status as it hit land. The center of Alicia moved over the Texas coast about 25 miles southwest of Galveston on August 18. Aircraft observations indicated that only a 60 mile section of the coast, extending northeastward from Freeport, TX, experienced hurricane force winds. Despite its small size, Alicia caused over $2.4 billion in damage (in 1990 dollars).
Hurricane Elena, September 2, 1985: Elena originated off the African coast on August 23rd and was named when it became a tropical storm on the 28th near Cuba. Elena intensified to hurricane strength on the 29th over the open water of the southeast Gulf of Mexico.
Steering currents (upper winds that move the storm) over hurricane collapsed and a frontal trough turned Elena toward east-northeast on August 30 posing threats to the Panhandle west coast of Florida. As it moved near Florida's west coast, steering currents again collapsed. Elena looped in the Gulf of Mexico and headed west-northwest making landfall near Biloxi, MS on September 2nd.
Nearly one million people were evacuated from low-lying coastal areas in the warning area, from Louisiana to Florida's west coast, with a large section of the middle Gulf coast being asked to evacuate twice within a three-day period. This is the largest number of people ever evacuated and may account for the fact there were no deaths in the area of landfall. The four deaths attributed to Elena were caused by a falling tree, automobile accident and heart attack. Estimates of total economic loss from Elena are near $1.4 billion (1990 dollars).
Hurricane Gilbert, September 16, 1988: Although Gilbert, one of the most powerful hurricanes of the century, did not strike the U.S. Gulf coast, it did affect Texas and Oklahoma. It is often compared to 1969's Hurricane Camille, because like Camille, it was also a Category 5 storm. Hurricane Gilbert was also a monumental storm, because it had the lowest sea level pressure ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere at 888 mb (26.23 inches). The highest sustained winds recorded were in Jamaica at 116 mph, with gusts to 140 mph. An unofficial report recorded slightly higher readings.
Gilbert's track took it through Jamaica, over the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, through the southwest Gulf of Mexico and made final landfall as a Category 3 hurricane on the northeast Mexican coast on September 16th. Gilbert brought 5 to 10 inches of rain over coastal sections and more in mountainous areas. The weakening storm passed south of Monterrey, Mexico, bringing massive flooding to the area. The storm then tracked north into western Texas and Oklahoma as a heavy rain storm on the 18th. A total of 318 people were killed; 315 throughout Mexico, Central America, Jamaica, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic, and 3 in the U.S.
Damages in Mexico were estimated between $1-2 billion (1990 dollars), and nearly $2 billion in Jamaica. The Mexican government reported that more than 60,000 homes were destroyed. The 3 U.S. deaths occurred in San Antonio, TX from tornadoes spawned from Gilbert's remnants. At least 29 tornadoes were observed across south Texas, and they caused between $40-50 million in damages. In the area of Brownsville, TX, wind gusts from Gilbert of 67 mph to 83 mph were measured by an observer with a truck mounted anemometer, before the storm made landfall in Mexico.
1990 - 1993
The only major hurricane to strike the Gulf Coast was the infamous Andrew that devastated Southern Florida before turning toward Louisiana in 1992.
Hurricane Andrew, August 26, 1992: After Andrew cut its historic path of destruction and devastation through southern Florida, it exited the southwestern part of the state as a Category 3 hurricane on the Saffir/Simpson Scale. Once into the Gulf of Mexico, Andrew again strengthened to a Category 4 hurricane and headed northwest toward Louisiana. It is estimated that 1,250,000 evacuated from parishes in southeastern and south-central Louisiana, and about 250,000 evacuated from Orange and Jefferson counties in Texas.
On the 26th, Andrew weakened to a Category 3 hurricane by the time it made landfall about 20 miles west-southwest of Morgan City,a sparsely populated section of the south-central Louisiana coast. After landfall, Andrew moved north then northeastward and weakened rapidly to tropical storm strength (39-74 mph winds) in 10 hours, and to a depression (35-39 mph winds) 12 hours later.
Storm tides in Louisiana were at least 8 feet, and caused flooding from Lake Borgne westward through Vermillion Bay. Andrew and its remnants continued to produce heavy rains that locally exceeded 10 inches. Hammond, LA, reported the greatest amount of rainfall at 11.92 inches. Andrew's death toll in Louisiana amounted to 15, including 2 deaths from a tornado.
Andrew generated a number tornadoes in Louisiana resulting in 2 deaths, and 32 injuries. Tornadoes were suspected to have caused damages in several Mississippi counties, and 2 damaging tornadoes were confirmed in Alabama. Even severely damaging tornadoes in Georgia on August 27th were attributed to Andrew. Andrew has been retired into "hurricane history" as the most expensive hurricane in the history of the United States.


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