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50 Year Anniversary of Catastrophic Landfall of Hurricane Camille

[Aftermath of Hurricane Camille in Biloxi, Mississippi. From NOAA]

[NWS Mobile & NWS Jackson]  In the late evening hours of August 17, 1969, a catastrophic storm named Hurricane Camille slammed into the Gulf Coast near Waveland, Mississippi. A Category 5 hurricane, with sustained winds of 175 mph and a storm surge of more than 24 feet, Camille devastated much of coastal Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana. More than 250 people lost their lives and damage was estimated at about $10 billion in 2019 dollars ($1.42 billion in 1969).

The powerful, deadly, and destructive hurricane formed just west of the Cayman Islands on August 14, 1969. It rapidly intensified and by the time it reached western Cuba the next day it was a Category 3 hurricane. Camille tracked north-northwestward across the Gulf of Mexico and became a Category 5 hurricane on August 16. The hurricane maintained this intensity until it made landfall along the Mississippi coast late on the 17th. Camille weakened to a tropical depression as it crossed Mississippi into western Tennessee and Kentucky, then it turned eastward across West Virginia and Virginia. The cyclone moved into the Atlantic on August 20 and regained tropical storm strength before becoming extratropical on the 22nd.

Camille is one of only FOUR Category 5 hurricanes ever to make landfall in the continental United States (Atlantic Basin) – the others being the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane, which impacted the Florida Keys; Hurricane Andrew in 1992, which impacted south Florida; and Hurricane Michael in 2018, which impacted the Florida panhandle.

Camille ranks as the 2nd most intense hurricane to strike the continental US with 900 mb pressure and landfall intensity of 150 knots (173 mph). Camille ranks just below the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane with 892 mb and 160 knots, while slightly stronger than Hurricane Andrew with 922 mb and 145 knots and Hurricane Michael with 919 mb and 140 knots. 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 roughly 175 mph along the coast. A devastating storm tide of 24.6 feet occurred west of our area in Pass Christian, MS.

Hurricane Camille impacted the entire region, especially counties across southeast Mississippi and southwest Alabama. Counties in southeast Mississippi had the greatest damage due to the proximity to Camille’s path across the state of Mississippi. Winds gusted to 100 mph across much of southern Mississippi. Moderate wind damage extended inland to Stone and George Counties in Mississippi with minor damage further inland, mainly restricted to fallen trees and power lines. Further east from the path of Camille, hurricane force winds were reported on Dauphin Island and along the coast of Grand Bay and Portersville Bay.

Most property damage along the immediate coast was caused by high water. The water was estimated at nearly 10 feet above the astronomical tide on the night of August 17th through the 18th along Dauphin Island and coastal Mobile County. Further east, the storm tide was estimated at 6.3 feet above astronomical tide in the Pensacola area, 4.5 feet above astronomical tide across coastal Santa Rosa County and 4.0 feet above astronomical tide across coastal Okaloosa County. A storm tide of 24.6 ft occurred at Pass Christian, Mississippi. The heaviest rains along the Gulf Coast were about 10 inches. However, as Camille passed over the Virginias, it produced a burst of 12 to 20 inch rains with local totals of up to 31 inches. Most of this rain occurred in 3 to 5 hours and caused catastrophic flash flooding.

[Aftermath of Hurricane Camille in Biloxi, Mississippi. From NOAA]

The greatest damage across was found in southeast Dauphin Island, the Alabama coastline, and the Mobile metro area. Damage consisted of roof damage, partial destruction of buildings, fallen trees and washed out roads across Mobile and Baldwin Counties in southwest Alabama and Stone and George Counties in southeast Mississippi. Power lines and trees were down across the entire area. There was extensive damage sustained to the motels, restaurants, service stations and fishing camps along the Causeway (Highway 90) over Mobile Bay. Sections of roads in southern Mobile County and on Dauphin Island were completely washed out or covered in sand according to a US Army Corps of Engineers  report.

Crop damage was extensive across southeast Mississippi with the total destruction of many tung and pecan orchards. Crop damage across south Alabama was limited to Baldwin, Mobile and western Washington Counties. Pecans, soybean and corn crops were damaged or destroyed. Pecan damage was extensive and approximately 20,000 acres of corn was flattened. It was estimated that 90% of crop damage across the area was due to the wind while 10% was due to the rain. Total property damage for the Florida panhandle, including beach erosion and crop losses, were estimated near 1/2 million dollars (1969 value, not current conversion value) with the major portion of the damage in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties.

Edited for WeatherNation by Meteorologist Mace Michaels

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