Early on the morning of August 12, 1955, Hurricane Connie struck the North Carolina coast. Five and half days later on August 17th, Hurricane Diane made landfall further south along the state’s shore. After making landfall, each storm tracked over the Washington, D.C. area. In the interim between eye passages, Congress passed a bill authorizing an increase to the U.S. Weather Bureau’s (USWB) budget to allow it improve the nation’s weather radar network and to inaugurate the National Hurricane Research Project (NHRP).
Hurricane Connie was a classic Cape Verde hurricane, forming in the deep tropical Atlantic. It rapidly intensified and reached Category 4 strength as it moved north of Puerto Rico. It maintained its strength for four days until a high-pressure ridge slowed its northward progress. Its peak winds steadily declined and it turned to a more westward track (partly due to the influence of Diane to its southeast). It turned northward before making landfall near Cape Lookout with 80 mph (130 km/hr) sustained winds. It then curved to the northwest to pass just east of the Nation’s capital. Connie killed 74 people and left US$85 million in damages, mostly due to flooding. Connie’s heavy rains left the ground throughout the Northeast saturated.
Hurricane Diane also formed in the tropical Atlantic, not far from where Connie had. Traveling north of Connie’s wake, Diane became a hurricane as Connie was making landfall and seemed to be recurving far out to sea. But as Connie weakened, Diane strengthened and took a west-northwesterly course. Four days later, it made landfall near Cape Fear, North Carolina as a Category-1 hurricane. It eventually recurved to the northeast while over Virginia, bringing its eye over Washington, D.C. just five days after Connie’s passage. Diane brought heavy rains to the Mid-Altanic states and New England, adding to what Connie had brought. Diane caused over 150 deaths, and resulted in over US$750 million in insured damages but the overall destruction was much more. The devastation earned it the nickname “The Billion Dollar Hurricane”.
The previous hurricane season had witnessed the triple strikes of Hurricanes Carol, Edna, and Hazel which brought unprecedented damage to the northeastern United States and Canada. These disasters prompted the Federal Government to press the U.S. Weather Bureau for a possible solution to the “hurricane problem”. Bob Simpson, working at USWB headquarters, had been advocating a modest research project for years, but could not get funding to implement it. The 1954 hurricane season supplied the motivation for the Government to provide the money, and Simpson expanded his proposals to become the National Hurricane Research Project. The funding for NHRP, as well as a new weather radar (WSR-57) network and other items from USWB’s wish list, made its way rapidly through the legislative process and the final authorization came on the August 15th of 1955, between eye passages.