59th Anniversary of Hurricane Hazel

Hurricane Hazel was a very unique storm and a big record still stands to this very day from the event that occurred 59 years ago. Washington National Airport recorded a 98 mph wind gust, the highest recorded at the site. This is also hard to believe, but Hazel was the last hurricane to bring sustained hurricane force winds to the D.C. area.

Morehead City, NC storm surge; Courtesy: East Carolina RENCI

The craziest thing about the storm was the incredible forward speed, as it came ashore in the mid-morning hours and made it to the D.C. area by the afternoon. The forward speed was close to 60 mph as it raced just west of D.C. Sustained winds at Reagan National were up to 78 mph, which is also a record for sustained winds at the site.

To put the winds in perspective, let's take a look at the sustained wind speeds and gusts from 3 recent storms.

Hurricane Isabel (2003) - 39 mph sustained, gust to 50 mph

Hurricane Irene (2011) - 47 mph sustained, gust to 60 mph

Hurricane Sandy (2012) - 41 mph sustained, gust to 61 mph

2012 Derecho (2012) - 49 mph sustained, gust to 70 mph

Hurricane Hazel Surface Map 11am October 15th

Now that you see the list of devastating storms that hit the area and their corresponding wind speeds and gusts, you can imagine the impact a Hazel-like storm would have on the region if it struck today. I would imagine it would have a similar impact to the Derecho, as they both had such a fast forward speed and exited the area in about the same amount of time.

Reported wind gusts in other locations:

Fayetteville, NC: 110 mph

Raleigh/Durham, NC: 90 mph

Myrtle Beach, SC: 106 mph

New York City at the south end of Manhattan: 113 mph

Hurricane Hazel Path

Hurricane Hazel developed as a Tropical Cyclone on the 5th of October near Grenada in the Windward Islands. It developed into a powerful Category 4 hurricane by the 9th of October and moved north from the Caribbean over Haiti (killing between 400 and 1000 people) where it weakened to a 100 mph Category 1 hurricane. As it moved back over the warm waters northeast of the Bahamas, it re-intensified to a Category 4 hurricane with winds to 150 mph and a forward speed of 30 mph. It finally made landfall near Myrtle Beach, SC as a Category 4 hurricane.

Extratropical Cyclone Sandy

It's also interesting to note that this storm was beginning to transition to an extratropical storm (meaning it was losing it's tropical characteristics) as it made landfall. This would mean it would be almost similar to the "frankenstorm" Sandy which also made an extratropical transition as it approached landfall last year. This made it difficult for forecasters to place critical watches and warnings although the storm still had hurricane force winds.

From the event summary made by the NWS office in Newport/Morehead City, NC, "Landfall occurred on the North Carolina/South Carolina border (see path graphic above) on the morning of October 15th as the system was starting to transition into an extra-tropical storm.

The coastal area near the landfall was battered by winds estimated to have been as high 150 mph. Winds of 98 mph were measured in Wilmington while winds were estimated at 125 mph at Wrightsville Beach and 140 mph at Oak Island. A storm surge of over 12 feet inundated a large area of coastline reaching as high as 18 feet at Calabash, where the storm surge coincided with the time of the lunar high tide and Hazel nearly wiped out Garden City, SC."

Numerous postings have been made on Hazel such as this one from National Geographic, and this from Canada about the major impacts it had on southern Ontario after it merged with the cold front to the west and became extratropical. Our friends at the Capital Weather Gang has it as their 3rd worst hurricane or tropical storm to hit the D.C. area.

I wanted to extend a big thank you to the NWS Office in Newport/Morehead City, NC for the information on the event and graphics. I also wanted to thank the NWS office in Sterling for additional information.