The List: Top 10 facts about Hurricane Hazel

Workers in Washington, dispose of trees felled on the U.S. Capitol grounds by Hurricane Hazel on Oct. 16, 1954. (Photo by Associated Press)Workers in Washington, dispose of trees felled on the U.S. Capitol grounds by Hurricane Hazel on Oct. 16, 1954. (Photo by Associated Press)
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Hurricane Hazel, the third-deadliest hurricane of the 1950s, struck the mid-Atlantic states, including the Washington, D.C., area, on Oct. 15, 1954. Hazel, which killed 95 people in the United States, is remembered primarily for its winds gusts. The hurricane pummeled the area between North Carolina and New York with hours of hurricane-force gusts, setting many wind records that stand to this day. The List takes a look back at Hurricane Hazel.

  • 10. Land ho! — Hurricane Hazel made landfall near Little River, S.C., along the border of North and South Carolina between 9 and 10 a.m. Oct. 15, with wind gusts estimated at 130 to 150 mph.
  • 9. Not so grand — Hurricane Hazel was the largest hurricane to hit the Grand Strand, a 60-mile stretch of South Carolina beach between Georgetown and Little River, which includes the popular vacation spot Myrtle Beach. Hazel’s winds and surges demolished a number of long-standing trees and buildings in the area. Myrtle Beach was already a popular tourist destination, but the rebuilding and development of the area after Hazel, which included a number of golf courses, made the area into a prime national resort destination.
  • 8. The latest and greatest — Hazel was a Category 4 hurricane, the strongest ever to hit North Carolina. It was also the strongest modern storm to strike so far north that late in the season. (Hurricane Sandy, which hit in late October last year, was a Category 3.)
  • 7. High tide — Hazel made landfall during the full moon of October, creating the highest lunar tide of the year. Because the sea level was already higher than normal, Hazel added to the problems for people living along the Carolina coast. The 18-foot storm surge in Calabash and Holden Beach was the highest ever recorded in North Carolina.
  • 6. A fowl occurrence — Hurricane Hazel wrecked numerous poultry sheds in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, killing 150,000 to 250,000 turkeys.
  • 5. Loss of a leader — Grady Norton, the meteorologist in charge of the U.S. Weather Bureau in Miami, the forerunner of the National Weather Service, worked tirelessly forecasting the paths of hurricanes. On Oct. 9, while tracking Hazel as it made its way through the Caribbean, he suffered a stroke and died.
  • 4. North of the border — After pounding the interior mid-Atlantic, Hazel crossed the border into Canada. Instead of dissipating, Hazel rapidly re-intensified over southern Ontario. Hazel hit the Toronto region with 68 mph winds and dumped 11.23 inches of rain in 48 hours. Eighty-one people were killed, and thousands were left homeless. Hazel became Canada’s “storm of the century” with destruction estimated at $100 million (about $1 billion today).
  • 3. Thirsting for water — In October 1954, the area around Fredericksburg, Va., was suffering from drought. On the morning of Oct. 15, the Fredericksburg City Council unanimously passed a resolution to enter into a contract with a company for cloud seeding operations, a process by which silver iodide particles are sprayed into clouds to provide a core for ice crystals to form. That day, Hurricane Hazel deposited more than 10 inches of rain across the area, ending the drought.
  • 2. Blowing in the wind — Hurricane Hazel produced wind gust records that stand to this day. In Hampton, Va., winds gusted to 130 mph. Norfolk, Va., had 78 mph sustained hurricane-force winds with gusts to 100 mph. Baltimore had a sustained wind of 73 mph with a gust to 84 mph. Salisbury, Md., recorded 52 mph with a gust to 101 mph. Philadelphia’s winds gusted to 100 mph. In Battery Park, on the southern tip of Manhattan, Hazel produced a gust of 113 mph, the highest wind speed ever recorded within the municipal boundaries of New York.
  • 1. A Capital Impact — Hazel was the last storm with hurricane-force winds to hit Washington, D.C. At 5:05 p.m. Oct. 15, National Airport recorded a 98 mph gust of wind, a record that stands to this day. Hazel’s extensive wind damage knocked out power to 400,000 residents and blew down trees that blocked roads and streetcar lines. Hazel’s wrath did not spare some trees at the Capitol or the White House. Agnes in 1972, Floyd in 1999, Isabel in 2003, Irene in 2011 and Sandy in 2012 all impacted the District, but their winds were tropical-storm force, not hurricane force.

Sources: Hurricanes and the Middle Atlantic States by Rick Schwartz; Huffington Post; East Carolina University; Washington Post; The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; National Weather Service; WRAL; WPDE; Science Daily; The Associated Press; South Carolina Department of Natural Resources; Myrtle Beach Downtown Redevelopment Corp.; Toronto and Region Conservation; NBC News; and Wikipedia.

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