Jim Bradshaw: Living in the peak of the Gulf storm season
Sept. 10 is generally recognized as the day when the hurricane season reaches its peak, and the likelihood of storms begins to fade, albeit slowly. Historically, the two weeks before and the two weeks after this day are the most likely time for a storm to develop.
That’s a statistic. It doesn’t mean we are out of the woods; we’ve had hurricanes as early as April and as late as December.
But an oddsmaker betting on when storms are most likely to happen would put his money on September, and especially the middle weeks of the month.
Some of the September storms will stick long in memory — the great Galveston hurricane, still regarded as possibly the worst natural disaster in U.S. history, came ashore on Sept. 8, 1900. I
t was barely felt in Louisiana, but we’ve had our share of remembered storms.
One of the first hurricanes recorded in Louisiana destroyed the tiny settlement of New Orleans in late September 1722 (according to most histories; some say 1721, some others 1723).
In 1740, two September storms struck the mouth of the Mississippi within a week of each other.
A “terrible storm” struck in Cameron Parish on Sept. 13, 1865.
The town of Cameron, then known as Leesburg, was leveled by the storm surge. The Lake Charles newspaper reported that Grand Cheniere was “submerged.”
A storm that came ashore during the first week of September 1879 flattened churches at Morgan City and Centerville and destroyed sawmills at Jeanerette.
In 1909, a September storm broke a protection levee and Lake Pontchartrain water poured into New Orleans.
Two hundred people were killed by the storm surge in Terrebonne Parish.
In 1915, nearly 300 people were killed by a storm that came ashore midway between Grand Isle and Morgan City, then curved to pass directly over New Orleans.
The storm that struck in the first week of September 1948 had relatively little impact inland, but it was the first to do big damage to offshore oil installations. According to the the U.S. Weather Bureau, “the heaviest damage occurred near Grand Isle, when immovable oil drilling rigs and equipment in the Gulf of Mexico were demolished by heavy seas.”
Hurricane Flossy provided a sterner test when it moved through warm Gulf waters in September 1956.
A history of the offshore industry recorded, “As in 1948, nearly 50 men ‘rode out’ the storm on tenders and other vessels. After a Calco tender … had been torn from its anchor, 25 crewmen fighting to survive in the high seas floated serenely in the eye of the storm for a while before 100 mile per hour winds returned from the opposite direction and their struggle began anew.”
Betsy came ashore on Sept. 9, 1965, and became the first hurricane in history to cause more than a billion dollars in damage.
Much of it was in New Orleans, where broken levees let in more flood water than pumps could handle.
Other September storms have visited regularly since then — Cindy (1963), Edith (1971), Carmen (1974), Babe (1977), Florence (1988), Isidore (2002), Humberto (2007), Gustave (2008), Ike (2008) — but among the storms of the last several decades, those of 2005 are the most vivid in memory. Katrina struck in late August, just before the peak of the season, then Rita devastated southwest Louisiana in mid-September.
We still haven’t fully recovered from that one-two punch.
A collection of Jim Bradshaw’s columns, "Cajuns and Other Characters" is now available from Pelican Publishing. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.