Irene May Be Only Washington’s Latest Hurricane

Hurricane Irene as seen from the International Space Station
National Journal
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Peter Bell, Carrie Mihalcik and Kenneth Chamberlain
Aug. 24, 2011, 1:06 p.m.

With Hur­ricane Irene bear­ing down on Wash­ing­ton, D.C. — or not — here’s a short his­tory of Wash­ing­ton’s ex­per­i­ences with hur­ricanes.

1876 — Septem­ber 12-19

The “San Fe­lipe” hur­ricane hit Pu­erto Rico first be­fore head­ing out to the At­lantic. It then made land­fall in Wilm­ing­ton, N.C., be­fore mov­ing north. Al­though it was es­tim­ated to be a Cat­egory 1 hur­ricane as it plowed through Vir­gin­ia, it had been down­graded to a trop­ic­al storm by the time it reached Wash­ing­ton.

1878 — Oc­to­ber 23

This hur­ricane, a Cat­egory 2, is the strongest to have hit the Wash­ing­ton area since re­cord-keep­ing began in 1851. With winds peak­ing early in the morn­ing, the storm up­rooted trees and tore roofs of build­ings. Its rain and storm surge sub­merged corn­fields in the D.C. metro area, turned Rock Creek in­to a “ra­ging river,” filled down­town base­ments full of wa­ter, and washed out county roads cross­ing a branch of the Anacos­tia River. The hur­ricane also flattened tele­graph lines between Wash­ing­ton and New York City.

1879 — Au­gust

The hur­ricane hit the Out­er Banks of North Car­o­lina as a Cat­egory 3, then weakened, mov­ing in­to Vir­gin­ia as a Cat­egory 2.

1893 — Oc­to­ber

A Cat­egory 1 hur­ricane moved through the re­gion.

1894 — Septem­ber

An­oth­er Cat­egory 1 hur­ricane moved through the re­gion.

1896 — Septem­ber 22-30

This hur­ricane star­ted as a Cat­egory 2 near Geor­gia, but by the time its eye passed slightly to the west of Wash­ing­ton, the winds had dropped con­sid­er­ably. Here it caused sig­ni­fic­ant dam­age to trees, but not to much else.

1933 — Au­gust 23-24

The Ches­apeake Bay hur­ricane made land­fall near Vir­gin­ia Beach and fol­lowed the bay’s west side, passing slightly to the west of Wash­ing­ton. Most of the res­ult­ing dam­age was caused by the storm surge, which in the Wash­ing­ton area reached 11 feet — the highest on re­cord. El­ev­en people died as a res­ult of the storm, which caused $79 mil­lion in dam­age (in 1969 dol­lars).

1954 — Oc­to­ber 15

As the eye of Hazel passed to the west of Wash­ing­ton, its strongest winds hit the city, up­root­ing trees, tear­ing off roofs, and blow­ing out win­dows. By the time it reached D.C., after hav­ing made land­fall near Wilm­ing­ton, N.C., though, it tech­nic­ally wasn’t a hur­ricane. Near Wash­ing­ton it had merged with an­oth­er weath­er front, mak­ing it an ex­tratrop­ic­al storm with hur­ricane-force winds, ac­cord­ing to NOAA. Twenty-two people died in Vir­gin­ia, D.C., and Mary­land. The storm caused more than $500,000 in dam­age (in 1954 dol­lars) in Wash­ing­ton.

1955 — Au­gust 13 and Au­gust 18

Hur­ricane Con­nie moved up the Ches­apeake Bay along a path to that of the 1933 hur­ricane and drop­ping a tre­mend­ous amount of rain, in­clud­ing nearly 10 inches in Prince Georges County, Md., which is just out­side Wash­ing­ton. Total dam­age costs in­cluded about $4 mil­lion in Vir­gin­ia and $1 mil­lion in Mary­land. Five days later, Hur­ricane Di­ane came through cent­ral and north­ern Vir­gin­ia, dump­ing an­oth­er 10 inches of rain in some places on top­soil already sat­ur­ated by Con­nie. The res­ult­ing flood­ing pushed the Rap­pa­han­nock River in Vir­gin­ia to crest at 8.5 feet above flood stage in Re­m­ing­ton, Va., and 11 feet in Fre­d­er­icks­burg, Va.

2003 — Septem­ber 19

Hur­ricane Isa­bel was “one of the most sig­ni­fic­ant trop­ic­al cyc­lones to af­fect the Ches­apeake Bay re­gion” since Hazel in 1954 and the 1933 Ches­apeake Bay hur­ricane, ac­cord­ing to NOAA. The storm dam­aged or des­troyed nearly 8,000 homes in the D.C. area, mainly due to fallen trees, and left about 2 mil­lion res­id­ents without power — many for sev­er­al days. Isa­bel also pro­duced an ex­tens­ive storm surge, in­und­at­ing many low-ly­ing areas, in­clud­ing Old Town, Al­ex­an­dria, por­tions of which were un­der five- to six-feet of wa­ter, and the Geor­getown wa­ter­front in Wash­ing­ton, where the wa­ter level reached 8.72 feet.


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