60th Anniversary of Hurricane Hazel

Hurricane Hazel analysis as time of landfall.
Hurricane Hazel analysis as time of landfall.

On October 15, 1954, Hurricane Hazel made its devastating landfall near Myrtle Beach, SC.  Hazel had already ravaged islands in the Caribbean and Bahamas and would go on to wreak a path of destruction up the eastern United States and into Canada.  It left over a thousand people dead and nearly 400 million of dollars in damage, making it the deadliest and costliest hurricane of that notable year.  It was also one of the worst natural disasters in Canadian history.

Hazel was spawned from a tropical wave and formed into a tropical storm south of Barbados.  By the time hurricane hunters entered the storm it had almost reached hurricane status. It moved west-northwestward, just off the South American coast, and affected the Netherlands Antilles’ “ABC” islands.  It then slowed its forward speed and its maximum sustained winds reached  130 mph (213 km/hr).  A Navy hurricane hunter encountered severe turbulence in the storm with injuries to two crewmen, one of whom had to be hospitalized.  The hurricane turned northward and made its way through the Windward Passage between Cuba and Haiti.  It was there that Hazel had its direst impact, bringing floods to Hispañola and Puerto Rico, drowning a thousand in flash floods and mudslides and causing huge amounts of material damage to homes and infrastructure.

Hazel weakened after its encounter with the islands, but still caused six deaths in the Bahamas as it continued northward.  The Weather Bureau expected the storm to recurve out to sea and die off, but the hurricane instead turned northwestward and gained strength as it accelerated toward the Carolinas.  It struck near the South Carolina/North Carolina border with winds of  125 mph (205 km/hr) and a storm surge of 18 feet (5.5 m).  The surge demolished every pier along 170 miles of coast and destroyed 80% of waterfront dwellings in Myrtle Beach.  It also left debris on Carolina beaches brought all the way from the Caribbean.  The hurricane did not quickly diminish in strength as it became incorporated into a strong cold front over the eastern United States.  This allowed the extratropical storm to continue its rampage up the eastern seaboard and into Ontario.  There it toppled thousands of trees and its rains added to already saturated conditions and flooded many low lying valleys.  Hazel caused 95 deaths in the U.S. and 81 in Canada. It’s total destructive bill came to US$381 million.

The name Hazel was retired from the list of Atlantic storms for ten years, and then permanently retired in 1969 at the request of the National Hurricane Research Laboratory since they were still publishing work on Hazel.

Some related publications about Hazel:

  • Ballenzweig, E. M.,1959: Relation of Long-Period Circulation Anomalies to Tropical Storm Formation and Motion, Journal of Meteorology, 16, 2 (April 1959), 121-139
  • Burpee, R. W., 1988:  Grady Norton: Hurricane Forecaster and Communicator Extraordinaire. Wea. Forecasting, 3, 247–254.
  • Burpee, R. W., 1989:  Gordon E. Dunn: Preeminent Forecaster of Midlatitude Storms and Tropical Cyclones. Wea. Forecasting, 4, 573–584.
  • Dorst, N. M., 2007:  The National Hurricane Research Project: 50 Years of Research, Rough Rides, and Name Changes. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 88, 1566–1588.
  • Sheets, R. C. , 1990: The National Hurricane Center—Past, Present, and Future. Wea. Forecasting, 5, 185–232.
  • Simpson, R. H., 1998: Stepping Stones in the Evolution of a National Hurricane Policy. Wea. Forecasting, 13, 617–620.
  • Willoughby, H. E., D. P. Jorgensen, R. A. Black, and S. L. Rosenthal, 1985: Project STORMFURY: A Scientific Chronicle 1962–1983. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 66, 505–514.