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.