Hurricane Camille

Infobox Hurricane
Name=Hurricane Camille
Image location=Hurricane camille.jpg

Formed=August 14, 1969
Dissipated=August 22, 1969
1-min winds=175

Fatalities=259 directcite web|title=Deadliest US Hurricanes|url=|publisher=NOAA|accessdate=2006-05-28]
Areas=Cuba, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Southern United States, East-Central United States
Hurricane season=1969 Atlantic hurricane season

Hurricane Camille was the third and strongest tropical cyclone and second hurricane of the 1969 Atlantic hurricane season. The second of three catastrophic-level Category 5 hurricanes to make landfall in the United States during the 20th century, which it did near the mouth of the Mississippi River on the night of August 17, Camille was the only Atlantic hurricane to exhibit officially recorded sustained wind speeds of at least 190 mph (305 km/h) until Allen equalled that number in 1980, and the only Atlantic hurricane in recorded history to make landfall at or above such intensity.

The storm formed on August 14 and rapidly deepened. It scraped the western edge of Cuba at Category 3 intensity. Camille strengthened further over the Gulf of Mexico and made landfall with a pressure of 905 mbar (hPa), estimated sustained winds of 190 mph (305 km/h), and a peak official storm surge of 24 feet (7.3 m); by maximum sustained wind speeds, Camille was the strongest landfalling tropical cyclone recorded worldwide, and one of only four tropical cyclones worldwide ever to achieve wind speeds of 190 mph (305 km/h). The hurricane flattened nearly everything along the coast of the U.S. state of Mississippi, and caused additional flooding and deaths inland while crossing the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia. In total, Camille killed 259 people and caused $1.42 billion (1969 USD, $9.14 billion 2005 USD)cite web|title=The Inflation Calculator|url=|accessdate=2006-06-18] in damages. To this day, a complete understanding of the reasons for the system's power, extremely rapid intensification over open water and strength at landfall has remained unachieved.

Meteorological history

A tropical wave left the coast of Africa on August 5, becoming a tropical disturbance on August 9, convert|480|mi|km east of the Leeward Islands. Aircraft reconnaissance identified a closed circulation in the disturbance on the 14th near Grand Cayman and the system was designated Tropical Storm Camille with 60 mph (95 km/h) winds.The storm already had a well organized circulation and rapidly strengthened from August 14 to August 15 to a 115 mph (185 km/h) major hurricane before hitting the western tip of Cuba later that day. Land interaction weakened Camille to a 100 mph (160 km/h) hurricane, but it returned to perfect conditions as it crossed the Gulf of Mexico (possibly while passing over the Loop Current). On August 17, Camille reached an intense minimum central pressure of 905 mbar (hPa), and it continued to strengthen to a peak of 190 mph (305 km/h) winds (possibly the strongest ever recorded in an Atlantic hurricane). Eight hours before landfall, in the final reconnaissance flight that would be made into the system, flight crew members were unable to obtain a surface wind report, but took measurements that established an estimated wind speed of up to 205 mph (335 km/h) and a minimum central pressure of 901 mbar (hPa).Camille crossed the southeastern tip of Louisiana, and then hit near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, on the night of August 17. Its Category 5 strength winds are only estimated, due to the lack of wind reports near the center, though the NASA site at Stennis Space Center near Picayune, Mississippi, recorded an estimated gust of convert|160|mi/h|km/h|abbr=on with a pressure of 950 mbar. It maintained hurricane force winds for 10 hours as it moved convert|150|mi|km inland. As Camille turned east, it weakened to a tropical depression over northern Mississippi on the 19th. It picked up additional moisture from the Gulf Stream along the way and produced torrential rains in the remote mountains of Virginia. Camille turned eastward as it moved inland, and emerged into the Atlantic Ocean near Virginia Beach, Virginia, on the 20th. The depression restrengthened over the Gulf Stream, and briefly attained a peak of 70 mph (110 km/h) before becoming extratropical on the 22nd, east of Nova Scotia


Making landfall as a Category 5 hurricane, Camille caused damage and destruction across much of the Gulf Coast of the United States. Because it moved quickly through the region, Hurricane Camille dropped only moderate precipitation in most areas. Areas near its point of landfall reported from convert|7|in|mm to convert|10|in|mm. [David M. Roth. [ Camille Rainfall Graphic.] Retrieved on 2007-12-25.] The area of total destruction in Harrison County, Mississippi was 68 square miles (176 km²).cite web|title=Harrison County Camille Information|url=|accessdate=2006-05-28] The total estimated cost of damage was $1.42 billion (1969 USD, $9.14 billion 2005 USD).cite web|title=The Inflation Calculator|url=|accessdate=2006-06-18] This made Camille the second-most expensive hurricane in the United States, up to that point (behind Hurricane Betsy).cite web|title=The Deadliest, Costliest, and Most Intense United States Hurricanes from 1900 to 2000 (And Other Frequently Requested Hurricane Facts)|url=|accessdate=2007-08-27] The storm directly killed 143 people along Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. An additional 153 people perished as a result of catastrophic flooding in Nelson County, Virginia and other areas nearby. In all, 8,931 people were injured, 5,662 homes were destroyed, and 13,915 homes experienced major damage, with many of the fatalities being coastal residents who had refused to evacuate.

Gulf of Mexico

Shell Oil Company measured waves 70-75 feet (21-23 meters) high during this intense cyclone. One of its rigs was lost due to both extreme wave action and a mudslide at the Gulf of Mexico's bottom. The ocean floor in the Gulf of Mexico's South Block 70 lowered during the hurricane's passage. Property damages to the offshore oil industry totaled US$100 million (1969 dollars). [U. S. Department of the Interior Minerals Management Service. [ History of the Offshore Oil and Gas Industry in Southern Louisiana Interim Report: Volume I: Papers on the Evolving Offshore Industry.] Retrieved on 2007-02-02.]

Gulf Coast and the Caribbean

In Cuba, the only Caribbean island greatly affected by Camille, three deaths were reported. Over convert|10|in|mm of rain were recorded in the western portion of Cuba.cite web|title=Hurricane Camille; Storm of the Century|url=|accessdate=2006-05-26] But in continental North America, where Camille was stronger, more damage was brought. While moving over southeastern Louisiana, the Weather Bureau Office at Boothville reported wind gusts of convert|107|mi/h|km/h|abbr=on. At least $350 million (1969 USD, $1.85 billion 2005 USD)cite web|title=The Inflation Calculator|url=|accessdate=2006-06-18] in damage was reported. cite web|title=New Orleans Hurricane Risk|url=|accessdate=2006-05-26]

Alabama also experienced damage along U.S. Highway 90: 26,000 homes and over 1,000 businesses were wiped out completely across the state of Alabama. Camille's large circulation also resulted in a 3-to-5 foot (1-1.5 m) storm surge in Apalachicola, Florida.

Mississippi received the worst of the damage. Upon making landfall, Camille produced a 24 foot (7.3 m) storm surge. Along Mississippi's entire shore and for some three to four blocks inland, the destruction was nearly complete. The worst hit areas were Clermont Harbor, Lakeshore, Waveland, Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, Long Beach, and the beach front of Gulfport, Mississippi City, and Biloxi.

More than convert|11|in|mm of rain occurred in Hancock County, and most low-lying areas were flooded with up to 15 feet (4.6 m) of water. U.S. Highway 90, which is close to the shore, was broken up in many areas, and sand and debris blocked much of it. Totals say that 3,800 homes and businesses were completely destroyed. As Camille came ashore, it passed over Ship Island, off the coast of Mississippi; Camille's strong storm surge and torrential rains literally split the island in two: the body of water between West Ship Island and East Ship Island is now called "Camille's Cut".

In addition, one of Frank Lloyd Wright's waterfront houses for W. L. Fuller, in Pass Christian, was completely destroyed by Hurricane Camille.cite web|, FLW Designs (2005)|url=|accessdate=2006-09-04|pages="Enduring Legacy" (bottom).]

The Hurricane Party

One persistent account about Camille states that a hurricane party was held on the third floor of the Richelieu Manor Apartments in Pass Christian, Mississippi, in the path of the eyewall as it made landfall. The high storm surge flooded and destroyed the building, and there was only one survivor to tell of the story of the others. Who the survivor is, how many party guests there were, and just how far the sole survivor was swept by the storm varies with the retelling. The television show Quantum Leap (TV series) carried an episode regarding the parties of Hurricane Camille and the actual hurricane itself. Survivor Ben Duckworth is quoted in "Hurricane Camille: Monster Storm of the Gulf Coast" as stating that the Richelieu was a designated civil defense air-raid shelter. However, their faith in the building's sturdiness was unfounded, as it was completely demolished by the storm. Twenty-three people are known to have stayed in the Richelieu Apartments during the hurricane, of whom eight died. The tale of the lone survivor and the party appears to have originated with survivor Mary Ann Gerlach. Other survivors, including Duckworth and Richard Keller have expressed irritation at the story. [cite web|title=UPM Philip Hearn Interview|url=|publisher=University Press Mississippi|accessdate=2006-05-28] [cite web|title=Correcting the facts and debunking the myths of Camille|url=|author=Kat Bergeron|publisher=The Sun Herald|accessdate=2006-05-28] "The hurricane party never happened, nor were the number of deaths associated with the apartment inhabitants accurate," says Pat Fitzpatrick, Mississippi State University professor and author of "Hurricanes: A Reference Handbook". [cite web|title="Hurricane Reference Guide|url=|publisher=Mississippi State University|accessdate=2005-03-30]

Ohio Valley and West Virginia

Camille caused moderate rainfall in Tennessee and Kentucky of between 3 and convert|5|in|mm,David M. Roth. [ Hurricane Camille.] Retrieved on 2007-11-03.] helping to relieve a drought in the area.

Yet in West Virginia, there was flash flooding which destroyed 36 houses and 12 trailers, a total of three quarters of a million dollars in damage.cite web|author=United States Department of Commerce|year=1969|url=|title=Hurricane Camille August 14-22, 1969|publisher=Environmental Science Services Administration|accessdate=2008-03-23|format=PDF] .


Because the hurricane was expected to quickly dissipate over land, few were prepared for the flash flooding.cite web|url=|title=1969 Monthly Weather Review|publisher=NOAA|format=PDF 17.8 MB|accessdate=2006-05-28] Arriving in Virginia on the evening of August 19, Camille was no longer a hurricane, but it carried incredible amounts of moisture and contained sufficient strength and low pressure to pull in additional moisture.

The storm dropped torrential rainfall of convert|12|in|mm to convert|20|in|mm, with a maximum of convert|27|in|mm. Most of the rainfall occurred in Virginia during a 3-5 hour period on August 19 and 20.cite web|url=|title=1969 Monthly Weather Review|publisher=NOAA|format=PDF 17.8 MB|accessdate=2006-05-28] The flooding led to overflown rivers across the state, with the highest amount being the James River in Richmond with a peak crest of convert|28.6|ft|m. Many rivers in Virginia and West Virginia set records for peak flood stages, causing numerous mudslides along mountainsides. In the mountain slopes between Charlottesville and Lynchburg, more than convert|10|in|mm of rain fell in a course of 12 mere hours, but the worst would befall Nelson County.

A hilly, rural county with a population of around 15,000, Nelson would receive as much as convert|27|in|mm of rain. The rainfall was so heavy there were reports of birds drowning in trees and of survivors who had to cup their hands around mouth and nose in order to breathe through such a deluge.

The ensuing flash floods and mudslides killed 153 people. In Nelson County alone, 133 bridges were washed out, while some entire communities were under water.cite web|author=United States Department of Commerce|year=1969|url=|title=Hurricane Camille August 14-22, 1969|publisher=Environmental Science Services Administration|accessdate=2008-03-23|format=PDF]

The major flooding that occurred downstream cut off all communications between Richmond and the Shenandoah Valley. Waynesboro on the South River saw eight feet of water downtown, and Buena Vista had more than five feet.

Throughout Virginia, Camille destroyed 313 houses, 71 trailers, and 430 farm buildings. 3,765 families were affected by the hurricane in the area, and total damage in the state amounted to $140.8 million (1969 USD, $747 million 2005 USD). [cite web|author=United States Department of Commerce|year=1969|url=|title=Hurricane Camille August 14-22, 1969|publisher=Environmental Science Services Administration|accessdate=2008-04-13|format=PDF] cite web|title=The Inflation Calculator|url=|accessdate=2006-06-18)] [cite web|title=Virginia's Weather History|publisher="Virginia Dept. of Emergency Management|url=|accessdate=2006-05-28]

Barometric pressure, winds, and other superlatives

Camille produced the seventh lowest official barometric pressure ever recorded in the Atlantic basin, at 905 mbar. [National Hurricane Center. [ Atlantic Hurricane Database.] Retrieved on 2008-03-29.] Minimum pressure at landfall in Mississippi was 909 mbar; the only hurricane to hit the United States with a lower pressure at landfall was the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935.Eric S. Blake, Edward N. Rappaport, and Chris Landsea. [ The Dealiest, Costliest, and Most Intense United States Tropical Cyclones From 1851 to 2006 (and other frequently requested hurricane facts).] Retrieved on 2008-03-19.] A reconnaissance flight indicated a pressure of 901 mbar,cite web|title=NWS Jackson Special Weather Summary|url=|publisher=NOAA|accessdate=2006-05-28] but this pressure was not verified, and remains unofficial pending reanalysis. The wind speed of Camille can only be approximated, as no meteorological equipment survived the extreme conditions at landfall, but Camille is estimated to have had sustained winds of 190 mph (305 km/h) at landfall, with gusts exceeding 200 mph (320 km/h). Before Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Camille likely had the highest storm surge measured in the United States, at over 24 feet (7.3 meters).cite web|title=Hurricane Resources|url=|publisher=US Army Corps of Engineers|accessdate=2006-05-28]

The convert|24|ft|m|sing=on storm surge quoted by the Army Corps of Engineers was based on high water marks inside surviving buildings, of which there were but three. Prior to the collapse of the Richelieu Apartments, Ben Duckworth shined a flashlight down a stairwell and found the water within one step of the third-story floor; this establishes a surge height of convert|28|ft|m at that spot at that time. About 15 minutes later, the building collapsed and the evidence vanished with it.

In addition, Camille forced the Mississippi River to flow backwards for a river-distance of 125 miles (from its mouth to a point north of New Orleans). The river further backed up for an additional convert|120|mi|km, to a point north of Baton Rouge.cite book |title=Category 5: The Story of Camille |last=Howard |first=Judith A. |authorlink= |coauthors=Zebrowski, Ernest |year=2005 |publisher=University of Michigan Press |location=Ann Arbor |isbn=0472115251 |pages=109 ]

In 1969 the naming conventions for hurricanes were not strictly controlled as they are today. There were only three requirements: the name had to be female (male names were not used at that time), the names had to remain in alphabetical order, and the name could not have been retired. John Hope, a meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center, had a daughter who had just graduated from high school. He added her name — Camille — to the list of storm names for the year, having no way of knowing that the storm bearing her name would become infamous. [cite web|url=|title=John Hope a North Georgia Notable|publisher=Golden Ink|accessdate=2006-05-29] Camille Hope is the wife of U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall of Georgia.


The response after the storm involved many federal, state, and local agencies and volunteer organizations. The main organization for coordinating the federal response to the disaster was the Office of Emergency Preparedness, which provided $76 million (1969 USD, $403 million 2005 USD)cite web|title=The Inflation Calculator|url=|accessdate=2006-06-18] to administer and coordinate disaster relief programs. Food and shelter were available the day after the storm. On August 19, parts of Mississippi and Louisiana were declared major disaster areas and became eligible for federal disaster relief funds.cite web|title=Thirty Years After Hurricane Camille: Lessons Learned, Lessons Lost|url=|publisher=University of Colorado|accessdate=2006-05-28]

Major organizations contributing to the relief effort included the Federal Power Commission, which helped fully return power to affected areas by November 25, 1969. The Coast Guard (then under the Department of Transportation), Air Force, Army, Army Corps of Engineers, Navy, and Marine Corps all helped with evacuations, search and rescue, clearing debris, and distribution of food. The Department of Defense contributed $34 million (1969 USD, $180 million 2005 USD)cite web|title=The Inflation Calculator|url=|accessdate=2006-06-18] and 16,500 military troops overall to the recovery. The Department of Health provided 4 million dollars towards medicine, vaccines and other health related needs.

Long-term redevelopment was overseen by the Department of Commerce, which contributed $30 million (1969 USD, $159 million 2005 USD)cite web|title=The Inflation Calculator|url=|accessdate=2006-06-18] towards planned and coordinated redevelopment of affected areas.

The devastation of Camille inspired the implementation of the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. After the storm, many Gulf Coast residents commented that hurricane warnings were not clear enough in conveying the expected intensity of the coming storm. The Saffir-Simpson scale offered a much more concise statement of storm intensity than barometric pressure and wind-speed measurements, and veterans of previous hurricanes could analogize the power of the approaching storm to those they had experienced. [cite web|url=|title="Category Five": How a Hurricane Yardstick Came to Be|publisher=National Geographic|accessdate=2006-07-30]

In a 1999 report on Hurricane Camille sponsored by the NOAA Coastal Services Center, the authors concluded: "With Camille, the preparations for the event and the response were based on processes put in place long before the storm made landfall. Coordination between government agencies as well as with state and local officials was enhanced because of preexisting plans."

One small compensation was that recovery from flood damage in Nelson County, Virginia led to the discovery of the Ginger Gold apple in the orchards of Clyde Harvey." [ Hurricane Camille Leaves a New Apple in Nelson C.] " "Charlottesville Daily Progress", September 18 1992]


The name Camille was retired after the 1969 season due to the major destruction and death in much of the Southern United States and will never be used again for an Atlantic or Gulf hurricane or tropical storm. A replacement name was never chosen, as a new list of names was created.

Comparisons to Hurricane Katrina

Comparisons between Hurricane Katrina of the 2005 season and Camille are difficult to avoid because of their similar strengths and similar landfall locations. [Jay S. Hobgood. [ 27th Conference on Hurricanes and Tropical Meteorology 16C.7. A comparison of hurricanes Katrina (2005) and Camille (1969).] Retrieved on 2008-03-29.] Before Katrina, Camille was considered to be the "benchmark" against which all Gulf Coast hurricanes were measured. [CBS. [ Katrina: The New Benchmark?] Retrieved on 2008-03-29.] Katrina was weaker than Camille at landfall but substantially larger, which led to a broader impact of a similar storm surge. Many who experienced Camille described Katrina as "much worse" - not only because of the massive storm surge, but from the fact that Katrina pounded the Mississippi coast for a longer period of time. Camille also drew part of its record storm surge from adjacent coastal waters; Lake Borgne and Lake Pontchartrain actually receded in the face of the colossal suction effect of the Camille eyewall, thus sparing the city of New Orleans from flooding.

Katrina's death toll was made slightly higher because those who survived Camille with no flooding and little damage believed Katrina to be less of a threat, creating a false sense of security among Camille veterans, which accounted for as many as 7% of those not evacuating. [Fritz Institute. [ Hurricane Katrina: Perceptions of the Affected.] Retrieved on 2008-03-29.] An innkeeper at the Harbour Oaks Inn, Tony Brugger, stayed at the inn and was killed when his inn collapsed. Before 1969, many residents of the Gulf Coast had weathered the effects of Hurricane Betsy, the strong Category 3 hurricane that had made landfall in 1965. Betsy up until that point had been the benchmark for Gulf hurricanes and many people ignored the warnings for Camille believing that a hurricane could not get any stronger.Fact|date=March 2008 Unfortunately, when Katrina hit the same mentality persisted and those who survived Camille felt that they could survive Katrina and thus did not evacuate.Fact|date=March 2008

ee also

*List of Atlantic hurricane records
*List of Category 5 Atlantic hurricanes
*List of wettest known tropical cyclones in Virginia
*List of retired Atlantic hurricane names


Further reading

*cite book |title=Roar Of The Heavens: Surviving Hurricane Camille |last=Bechtel |first=Stefan |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=2006 |publisher=Citadel Press |location=New York |isbn=0806527064 |pages=
*cite book |title=Hurricane Camille: Monster Storm of the Gulf Coast |last=Hearn |first=Philip D. |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=2004 |publisher=Univ. Press of Mississippi |location=Jackson, MS |isbn=1578066557 |pages=

External links

* [ Harrison County Library's Camille Page]
* [ Thirty Years After Hurricane Camille: Lessons Learned, Lessons Lost] , Roger A. Pielke, Jr., Chantal Simonpietri, and Jennifer Oxelson, July 12 1999.
* [ of Camille's eye at landfall]
* [ surge profile]
* [ Post-Storm Report on Camille]
* [ The story of Harbour Oaks Inn]
* [ Radar image of Camille]

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