Home World Historic Gulf Coast Hurricanes: How Does Laura Compare?

Historic Gulf Coast Hurricanes: How Does Laura Compare?

Scott Neuman

Parnell McKay, the civil defense director of Pass Christian, Miss., looks over the town’s main business district on Aug. 23, 1969 after Hurricane Camille passed through. Jack Thornell/AP hide caption

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Jack Thornell/AP

Parnell McKay, the civil defense director of Pass Christian, Miss., looks over the town’s main business district on Aug. 23, 1969 after Hurricane Camille passed through.

Jack Thornell/AP

Hurricane Laura, which hit the coast of Louisiana early Thursday as a Category 4 storm packing winds of 150 mph, is one of the most powerful storms in decades to hit the area.

How does it compare to other Gulf Coast hurricanes? That depends on how you define the question and how far back you go. Using 1900 as a starting point, here’s a look at some of the most intense and destructive hurricanes in the last 120 years.

Most intense

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Hurricane Camille, which made landfall on Aug. 17, 1969 near Waveland, Miss, is the most powerful storm to strike the Gulf Coast, based on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale, commonly used by meteorologists.

Camille is one of only four hurricanes ever to make U.S. landfall as a Category 5 storm, the others being the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane; Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and Hurricane Michael in 2018.

According to the National Weather Service, “The actual maximum sustained winds of Hurricane Camille are not known as the hurricane destroyed all the wind-recording instruments in the landfall area. Re-analysis data found peak winds of 150 knots (roughly 175 mph) along the coast.”

Until Hurricane Katrina surpassed it, Camille’s more than 24-foot storm surge in Pass Christian, Miss., held the record. Katrina’s storm surge along the Mississippi coast reached 30 feet.

Deadliest

The Great Galveston Hurricane hit the Texas coast with little warning on Sept. 8, 1900 and is estimated to have been a Category 4 storm when it made landfall. It pushed a 16-foot storm surge and winds of 150 mph.

Historic Gulf Coast Hurricanes: How Does Laura Compare? 2

A large part of the city of Galveston, Texas, was reduced to rubble, as shown in this September 1900 photo, after being hit by a surprise hurricane Sept. 8, 1900. AP hide caption

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AP

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A large part of the city of Galveston, Texas, was reduced to rubble, as shown in this September 1900 photo, after being hit by a surprise hurricane Sept. 8, 1900.

AP

“Forecasting was primitive in those days — they relied on spotty reports from ships in the Gulf of Mexico. Citizens of Galveston could see that a storm was brewing offshore, but had no idea that it was a monster,” NPR’s John Burnett reported in 2017.

Estimates of the death toll range from 6,000 to 12,000 people on Galveston Island and the mainland.

It remains the deadliest weather disaster in U.S. history, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In a 2008 remembrance of the devastating storm, The Associated Press spoke with Bonnie Rice, then 74, a retired caterer who was born and raised on Galveston Island.

“My grandmother’s family went in two boats to safety — one made it, the other didn’t,” she told the news agency. “My grandfather’s family lived down the island and they tied themselves down to two trees. One blew away, the other didn’t.”

Costliest

Historic Gulf Coast Hurricanes: How Does Laura Compare? 3
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A photo taken on Aug. 30, 2005 shows floodwaters from Hurricane Katrina filling the streets near downtown New Orleans. David J. Phillip/AP hide caption

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David J. Phillip/AP

A photo taken on Aug. 30, 2005 shows floodwaters from Hurricane Katrina filling the streets near downtown New Orleans.

David J. Phillip/AP

Hurricane Katrina ranks as not only the costliest-ever U.S. hurricane, but as the most expensive natural disaster in the country’s history, according to NOAA. Not only did it cost as many as 1,836 lives and leave millions of people homeless, but it left behind an estimated $ 160 billion worth of damage. Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, 2005 as a Category 3. Although New Orleans initially believed it had been spared the worst, the hurricane’s record storm surge overwhelmed levees and other flood control measures, eventually submerging 80% of the city.

Hurricane Harvey, which hit Texas and Louisiana in 2017 as a Category 4 storm, ranks as the second most costly U.S. storm, at $ 125 billion in damage.

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