U.S. Hurricanes: worse than we thought…100 years ago

Indianola, Texas in 1875 - The Indianola Hurricane of 1886 destroyed the town of Indianola, Texas. It was one of the most intense hurricanes ever to hit the United States. The town was never rebuilt. - Image Wikipedia

With the 2011 hurricane season drawing to a close in about a month, and with hurricane season this year being mostly uneventful in terms of landfall, I find this very interesting.

This historical reanalysis by NOAA shows U.S. hurricane landfalls were much more frequent in the past. For example, did you know that the busiest U.S. hurricane season ever was in 1886? Bill McKibben, Joe Romm and other “severe weather is climate” posers won’t like this because it blows the whole “CO2 is causing more hurricanes” argument right out of the water.

NOAA Revisits Historic Hurricanes


Major revisions to the Atlantic basin hurricane database (or HURDAT) have just been completed for the second half of the 19th Century and early 20th Century. HURDAT is the official record of tropical storms and hurricanes for the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea, including those that have made landfall in the United States. This database is utilized for a wide variety of purposes: setting of appropriate building codes for coastal zones, risk assessment for emergency managers, analysis of potential losses for insurance and business interests, intensity forecasting techniques, verification of official and model predictions of track and intensity, seasonal forecasting, and climatic change studies.

There are many reasons why a re-analysis of the HURDAT dataset was both needed and timely. HURDAT contained many systematic and random errors that needed correction. Additionally, as our understanding or tropical cyclones had developed, analysis techniques at the National Hurricane Center changed over the years, and led to biases in the historical database to studies concerned with landfalling events was lack of exact location, time and intensity information at landfall. Finally, recent efforts led by the late Jose Fernandez-Partagas to uncover previously undocumented historical tropical cyclones in the mid-1800’s to early 1900’s have greatly increased our knowledge of these past events, which also had not been incorporated into the HURDAT database.

Over 5000 additions and alterations are now approved for the 1851 to 1910 era by the National Hurricane Center’s Best Track Change Committee. (This same process was utilized for the upgrade of 1992’s Hurricane Andrew to a Category 5 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale last August.) This work on historical hurricanes was originally conducted by the late Jose Fernandez Partagas. Additional analyses, digitization and quality control of the data was carried out by researchers at the NOAA Hurricane Research Division funded by NOAA Office of Global Programs. Over the next two years, this re-analysis will continue to progress through the remainder of the 20th Century.


1. Busiest Hurricane Season Ever for the U.S.: The 1886 hurricane season has been analyzed to be the busiest on record for the continental United States. Seven hurricanes were recorded to have hit the U.S.: a Saffir- Simpson Hurricane Scale Category 2 hurricane into Texas and Louisiana in June, two Category 2 hurricanes into northwest Florida in June, a Category 1 hurricane into northwest Florida in July, the Category 4 “Indianola” hurricane into Texas in August, a Category 1 hurricane into Texas in September, and a Category 3 hurricane into Louisiana in October. The previous busiest hurricane season for the United States was 1985 with six landfalling hurricanes.

2. Extremely busy Decade for the U.S. Atlantic seaboard: The 1890s were one of the busiest decades on record for the Atlantic seaboard of the United States. Four major hurricanes impacted the coast from Georgia northward – the 1893 Category 3 “Sea Islands Hurricane” in Georgia and South Carolina, another 1893 Category 3 in South Carolina and North Carolina, an 1898 Category 4 in Georgia, and a 1899 Category 3 in North Carolina. Only the decade of the 1950s had more strong hurricanes making landfall along this part of the coast, going back to 1851 when reliable records began.

3. Cycles of hurricane activity: These records reflect the existence of cycles of hurricane activity, rather than trends toward more frequent or stronger hurricanes. In general, the period of the 1850s to the mid-1860s was quiet, the late 1860s through the 1890s were busy and the first decade of the 1900s were quiet. (There were five hurricane seasons with at least 10 hurricanes per year in the active period of the late 1860s to the 1890s and none in the quiet periods.) Earlier work had linked these cycles of busy and quiet hurricane period in the 20th Century to natural changes in Atlantic Ocean temperatures.

4. Georgia major hurricanes: During the 20th Century, Georgia did not have even a single major hurricane make a landfall along its coast. However, such absence did not continue back to the 19th Century. In contrast, Georgia experienced three major hurricanes in the later half of the 19th Century: a Category 3 in 1854 near Savannah, the Category 3 “Sea Islands Hurricane” in 1893 that killed 1000-2000 people near Savannah and a Category 4 in 1898 near Brunswick. Knowledge that such strong hurricanes have impacted this portion of the coast (and will undoubtedly hit again) is important for residents of Georgia to plan for the future.(See new NOAA Technical Memorandum by Sandrik and Landsea(2003).)

5. New England major hurricanes: Despite records showing six major hurricanes impacting New England in the 20th Century, the extension of hurricane analyses back to 1851 only show one major hurricane for the region in the second half of the 19th Century: 1869 hurricane which impacted Rhode Island and Connecticut. Thus it was a relatively quiet period for New England from the 1851 to 1910.

6. First time categorization of catastrophic 19th Century U.S. landfalling hurricanes: Several catastrophic hurricanes in U.S. history were categorized for the first time by the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. These included: the “Chenier Caminanda Hurricane” that struck Louisiana in 1893 and killed about 2000 people was assigned a Category 4 at landfall; the 1893 “Sea Islands Hurricane” killed 1000-2000 people in Georgia and South Carolina was ranked a Category 3 for its impact in both states; a hurricane in 1881 that also impacted Georgia and South Carolina and killed about 700 people was assigned Category 2 status. These hurricanes rank #2, 4 and 5, respectively, in the largest number of fatalities for U.S. landfalling tropical storms and hurricanes ever.

7. Strongest U.S. landfalling hurricane of the 1851 to 1910 era: The 1886 “Indianola” hurricane was analyzed as having 155 mph maximum sustained winds, a Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale Category 4 (approaching Category 5) and was the strongest to strike the United States between 1851 and 1910. This hurricane destroyed the town of Indianola, Texas due to its winds and 15′ storm surge and the town was never rebuilt. This was also the strongest hurricane of record anywhere in the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico or Caribbean Sea during the same time period. (No Category 5 hurricanes were recorded to have hit the United States between 1851 and 1910. However, records are somewhat incomplete along in Gulf coast and Florida because there were some coastal regions with few to no inhabitants, thus there may have been some systems mis-diagnosed in intensity in that period.) 31 major (Category 3, 4 and 5) hurricanes are recorded to have hit the United States from 1851 to 1910.

8. Longest lasting hurricane on record: Storm #3 (also known as the “San Ciriaco” hurricane for its impact in Puerto Rico in 1899 has been re-analyzed to now tie the record for longest lasting tropical cyclone in the Atlantic basin. It began on August 3 in the tropical North Atlantic, hit Puerto Rico as a Category 4 hurricane on the 8th, hit North Carolina as a Category 3 hurricane on the 18th, transformed into an extratropical system north of Bermuda on the 21st, redeveloped into a tropical storm on the 26th, went through the Azores Islands as a Category 1 hurricane on the 3rd of September and finally dissipated as an extratropical storm on the 4th. It was a storm system for 33 days and a tropical storm or hurricane for 28 of those days. This ties the record with Hurricane Ginger of 1971, which also was a tropical cyclone for 28 days.

9. Most hurricanes ever in one day: On August 22, 1893, four hurricanes were occurring simultaneously: storm #3 approaching Nova Scotia, Canada, storm #4 between Bermuda and the Bahamas, storm #6 northeast of the Lesser Antilles, and storm #7 west of the Cape Verde Islands. Storm #4 would end up making a direct hit on New York City as a Category 1 hurricane two days later and storm #6 ending up hitting Georgia and South Carolina as a Category 3 hurricane (the “Sea Islands Hurricane”) and killing 1000-2000 people. The only other known date with four hurricanes occurring at the same time was September 25, 1998, when hurricanes Georges, Ivan, Jeanne and Karl were in existence.


Go to the Data page

Documentation paper

“I wonder if the Monnett polar bear paper will become a new
> data point on the graph above? It certainly started out as one.”
5 1 vote
Article Rating
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
October 29, 2011 11:10 am

So a warming climate reduces hurricane activity, wonder if that fits the script.

Ex-Wx Forecaster
October 29, 2011 11:24 am

A warming climate reducing the number of hurricanes doesn’t fit the script, because the script contains only disaster with a warming climate. The script refrains from the use of common sense regarding weather and climate.

Bloke down the pub
October 29, 2011 11:30 am

But where is all the camcorder footage from 1886 to prove it?

John F. Hultquist
October 29, 2011 11:31 am

José Fernández Partagás Papers
Page 3: Biographical Note

October 29, 2011 11:46 am

Since we now see and count hurricanes on the open ocean that never touch land, one can only guess at the true number of such.

October 29, 2011 11:52 am

Fine-tune: (v.t.) 1. Pretend that the models predicted this.

ferd berple
October 29, 2011 11:58 am

Look at the BILLIONS of dollars in property damage SAVED as a result of CO2 warming REDUCING the frequency of US Hurricanes.
Look at the BILLIONS of dollars in increased US agriculture production as a result of CO2 warming
The biggest loss to date from CO2 induced global warming? The 90 BILLION the US spent on knucklehead climate alarmists telling us how bad it will be. The TRILLIONS in economic damages caused by the uncertainty of their failed forecasts. The TRILLIONS looted by the insurance industry using climate projections to inflate rates. That is the real damage caused by CO2. Economic damage unrelated to warming.

October 29, 2011 12:17 pm
October 29, 2011 1:06 pm

“Bloke down the pub says:
October 29, 2011 at 11:30 am
But where is all the camcorder footage from 1886 to prove it?”
We don’t need that. All we need is tree ring data from one tree.

October 29, 2011 1:13 pm

These findings actually verify our new model of CO2 IR absorption/reemission. Previously, it was thought that emission occurred in a homogenous 3D 360 degree pattern. We have established that a significant percentage (i.e.- any amount required to prove AGW) is, in fact, radiated 87.364 degrees from the commonly perceived 3D spacetime continuum, causing contratemporal forcing.
Recent increases in China’s greenhouse gas emissions may have caused the newly discovered MWP.

October 29, 2011 1:31 pm

Interesting enough, many years ago I remember reading in one of the Eco debunking books (Eco-Scam?) that even if global warming were occurring, it would tend to make the difference between the topics and the temperate zone smaller in temperature and therefore reduce storm frequency and ferocity. Of course, the AGW folks will have difficulty in using that logic so soon after laying all their chips on the Katrina debacle.

October 29, 2011 1:33 pm


Wet Snowfall Stuns Northeast
‘This is very, very unusual’: meteorologist

Can’t contain myself, waiting for the “excuses”.

October 29, 2011 1:45 pm

Glenn says:
October 29, 2011 at 12:17 pm
On a somewhat related front, seems the Arctic is worse than we thought.
throw a blanket over that camera –

Leon Brozyna
October 29, 2011 2:09 pm

The 2011 hurricane season? Seems more like the tropical storm season, with a few hurricanes thrown in to make things interesting.

October 29, 2011 2:55 pm

Joking aside, a warming climate probably does reduce hurricane frequency, if I’ve understood Richard Lindzen on this.

October 29, 2011 3:22 pm
Jimmy Haigh
October 29, 2011 3:34 pm

I have just started posting to WUWT from 50 years in the future and none of us can believe that anyone fell for all of that CAGW crap. How did that happen? Were they paid to do it?

October 29, 2011 3:41 pm

In general, the period of the 1850s to the mid-1860s was quiet, the late 1860s through the 1890s were busy and the first decade of the 1900s were quiet.
How do these tally with global warming and cooling periods?
Klotzbach and Gray link land-fall hurricanes to global cooling. See Fig.15 in
(I have lost the link to this paper so it’s a downloaded version. I think K&G have published a later paper.)
Articles referring to work by Kerry Emanuel are here:
To test the theory [that global warming increases huriicane activity], Emanuel and other scientists recently loaded tons of data into computer models, hoping to learn how bad it could get if global warming keeps pushing up sea temperatures.
The results were surprising: Hurricanes didn’t increase dramatically in the projections, even after decades of simulated global warming.
Emanuel was not disappointed that the research seemed to undercut his old results. “One gets used to being mistaken, and we follow the evidence and sometimes the evidence is contradictory and then we have to sort it out.”
He’s uncertain whether the recent results are correct or the outcome of faulty models. “There is a real conundrum here.”

[NB. I like his attitude: “we follow the evidence … whether the recent results are correct or the outcome of faulty models>/b>. If only …….]
“A new technique for deriving hurricane climatologies from global data, applied to climate models, indicates that global warming should reduce the global frequency of hurricanes, though their intensity may increase in some locations,” the study by Emanuel, Ragoth Sundararajan and John Williams said.
Emanuel pointed out to the Business & Media Institute that he isn’t denying a relationship exists between global warming and hurricanes.
“I am certainly not saying that there is no link between hurricanes and global warming,” Emanuel said. “There indeed appears to be a close relationship between ocean temperature and hurricane power. My most recent study shows that this relationship is not much in evidence in climate models, pointing to a possible problem with climate models”
Another study by meteorologist Tom Knutson makes a similar conclusion. According to a study authored by Knutson, Joseph Sirutis, Stephen Garner, Gabriel Vecchi and Isaac Held, published in the May 18 issue of Nature Geoscience, climate models show the amount of Atlantic tropical activity will decrease by 18 percent by the end of the century.
“Here we assess, in our model system, the changes in large-scale climate that are projected to occur by the end of the twenty-first century by an ensemble of global climate models, and find that Atlantic hurricane and tropical storm frequencies are reduced,” the study’s abstract said.

US hurricane data by decade is here:
I’m not convinced there is a strong correlation with global temperature or PDO. [NB. the K&G paper was specifically land-fall.]

Jimmy Haigh
October 29, 2011 3:57 pm

It’s cold…. Just in case you were wondering…

October 29, 2011 4:01 pm

But of course 1886 was just an outlier and doesn’t count !!! (to the warmistas)

October 29, 2011 4:03 pm

TomT says:
October 29, 2011 at 1:06 pm
We don’t need that. All we need is tree ring data from one tree.
Actually, all you need is some river delta sediment that is next to a tree !!

October 29, 2011 5:04 pm

Earlier work had linked these cycles of busy and quiet hurricane period in the 20th Century to natural changes in Atlantic Ocean temperatures.
So the question is how much of the variation is random and how much due to sea surface temperatures?
If the sea surface temperatures are important drivers of hurricane intensity, why would we not see more hurricanes now?

October 29, 2011 6:18 pm

Actual Results of all sorts are “Worse than we thought” mostly when the “we” have not been doing much thinking.

Jimmy Haigh
October 29, 2011 6:22 pm

Lazy Teenager. I do believe that you are becoming sceptical… Don’t tell your friends.

October 29, 2011 8:57 pm

The shock horror key to this story is quite evident:
“Fewer hurricanes – seas are calmer – woe is me – shock horror”
(Quote from the captain of a salvage tug)
There’s always a shock horror element to any new climate science finding.
The NEWS is always BAD!
You just have to look – carefully.
But NOT too carefully, mind you.

Brian H
October 30, 2011 12:18 am

Is it just my impression, or is 2011 wimping out on the landfall front? A coastal skim by an immature Irene is the biggest news I’ve heard to date.

David L
October 30, 2011 4:15 am

So how did the 2011 hurricane season end up relative to the predictions?

October 30, 2011 5:48 am

Jimmy Haigh
I got the joke eventually 😉
Too early on a sunday morning for the brain to kick in.

October 30, 2011 9:41 pm

Wouldn’t an evenly warming world mean that the temperature differential between the poles wouldn’t change? And thus the likelihood of extreme weather events like hurricanes not change?

October 31, 2011 5:01 am
October 31, 2011 9:50 am

This is the re-analysis that my 19 year old nephew Daniel worked on with Chris Landsea and others at NOAA and several of his findings were accepted and are now part of the public record.

Pamela Gray
October 31, 2011 7:03 pm

But, but, but, Mark says that hurricanes, tornadoes, drought, and torrential rains will get worse! I heard him say it on a recent TV special correlating Biblical predications with scientific consensus.
Apocalypse – The Puzzle of Revelation (History Channel) (A&E DVD Archives) (2005).
That must bite to have these specials come on in re-run time to keep us all updated on how stupid some scientists were back in the day.

Pamela Gray
October 31, 2011 8:15 pm

At o1:30:39 Mark starts his discussion about hurricanes in the transcripts below. This is a rerun of the above History Channel video I think, but is spun as something new.

October 31, 2011 8:28 pm

FWIW, this graph (from an article I’ll be posting tomorrow) shows ACE going nowhere fast, but down right now by a fair amount. If total Cyclone Energy is down, there’s not a lot of increased hurricanes…
Original from:
so I think the whole “more hurricanes” meme is, in mythbusters terms, “busted”…

November 1, 2011 3:49 am

“Thus it was a relatively quiet period for New England from the 1851 to 1910.”
Nothing truely big hit up until 1938. This led to the false belief, (which should have been disputed by those who looked at colonial records,) that “big hurricanes don’t hit New England.” Boy! Were they even in for a surprise in 1938!

sill scientists trix are for kids
December 5, 2011 6:36 pm

All of you are absolutly wrong….. your scientists that beleve in global warming…. find a girlfriend

Verified by MonsterInsights