How did the most powerful hurricanes to hit Louisiana end up there in the first place? When it comes to hurricanes, geography, and climate put the state of Louisiana in harm’s way. According to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), 63 hurricanes have struck Louisiana since 1822, second in number only to Florida and Texas. In any given year, the city of New Orleans has about a 40% chance of being struck by a tropical storm.
How Hurricanes Form
A hurricane is a form of tropical cyclone, that is, a rotating, low-pressure weather system. Tropical cyclones with winds over 39 mph are called storms. When that wind speed tops 74 mph, the storm is called a hurricane. Hurricanes form when warm ocean air rises into an existing storm, forming low pressure beneath, which brings more air rushing in. Clouds and thunderstorms form, and the heat they release fuels the storm to become even more powerful.
Why Hurricanes Strike Louisiana
The tropical waters off the west coast of Africa are ideal for hurricane formation. And once they form, wind currents tend to push the storms westward toward the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. The storms gain energy as they travel across the warm waters of the Atlantic, especially in late summer when the water is warmest. Some hurricanes also form in the Gulf of Mexico, but these tend to be weaker storms.
A major threat from hurricanes is storm surge. That’s the high water that gets pushed toward shore in advance of the storm. Because Louisiana’s coast has a wide and shallow continental shelf, more ocean water is able to surge onto land, causing widespread flooding.
The Most Powerful Hurricanes to Hit Louisiana
Hurricanes are numbered according to the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, which categorizes the storms based on their maximum sustained wind speed. The ranking goes from Category 1, 74-95 mph, to Category 5, 157 mph or greater. Even a Category 1 storm can damage buildings and cause power outages.
Here are the most powerful hurricanes to hit Louisiana, ranked in terms of wind speed.
#1 Hurricane Camille Aug. 17-18, 1969
Category 5, wind speed 190 mph, 256 deaths
One of only four Category 5 storms on record to strike the continental United States, Camille made landfall in Waveland, Mississippi. And it caused damage and destruction across the Gulf Coast. Camille was strong enough to make the Mississippi River flow backward. And it was the storm that inspired the creation of the Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale.
#2 Hurricane Laura, Aug. 27, 2020
Category 4, wind speed 150 mph, 30 dead
The first Category 4 hurricane to make landfall in southwest Louisiana, Laura produced a storm surge as high as 19 feet and caused rising waters as far as 20 miles inland. It also spread flooding, wind damage, and tornadoes into Arkansas and Mississippi.
#3 Hurricane Ida, Aug. 29, 2021
Category 4, wind speed, 150 mph, 91 dead
One of the strongest storms to make landfall in Louisiana in modern times, Ida moved slowly across the state, increasing the risk of flooding. The damage it caused left about one million Louisiana residents without power. As it moved to the northeast, the weakened storm merged with another weather front. This produced record rain levels and flash flooding.
#4 Last Island Storm, Aug. 10-12, 1856
Category 4, wind speed 150 mph, 200+ dead
Long before anyone gave storms official names (a practice begun by the National Hurricane Center in 1950), this hurricane struck Last Island, a resort populated by casinos, a hotel, and summer homes. Residents and vacationers experienced 8-foot waves, a 13-foot storm surge, and devastating winds. Survivors were rescued three days later; the island remains uninhabited to this day.
#5 Hurricane Number 10, Oct. 1-2, 1893
Category 3, wind speed 130 mph, 2,000 dead
A storm’s wind speed doesn’t tell the whole story of its destructive potential. This storm is sometimes called The Great October Storm, or the Chenière Caminada hurricane after the fishing village where it made landfall. Though a Category 3, it remains the deadliest in the Pelican State’s history. A 16-foot storm surge wiped out residents, livestock, crops, and property, effectively wiping the community off the map. Author Kate Chopin wrote about the area in her well-known novel The Awakening.
#6 Hurricane Katrina, Aug. 29, 2005
Category 3, wind speed 125 mph, 1,577 dead
A category 5 storm in the Gulf of Mexico, Katrina had weakened to a category 3 when it made landfall over southern Louisiana. Initially, it seemed the city of New Orleans got off easy and avoided the storm’s strongest winds. But the rain and storm surge proved too much for the city’s levee system to handle. Some of the levees were overtopped by water. Others failed outright and collapsed. The tens of thousands of residents who were unable or unwilling to evacuate found themselves in a city that was 80% underwater. According to one study, 40% of the deaths caused by Katrina were due to drowning, and 25% were due to injury and trauma.
Summary of the 6 Most Powerful Hurricanes Ever to Hit Louisiana
|1||Hurricane Camille||Aug. 17-18, 1969||Five||256|
|2||Hurricane Laura||Aug. 27, 2020||Four||30|
|3||Hurricane Ida||Aug. 29, 2021||Four||91|
|4||Last Island Storm||Aug. 10-12, 1856||Four||200 plus|
|5||Hurricane Number 10||Oct. 1-2, 1893||Three||2,000|
|6||Hurricane Katrina||Aug. 29, 2005||Three||1,577|
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Vikks/Shutterstock.com
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