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WFO Lake Charles, LA

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Louisiana Hurricane History:
Late 19th Century

David Roth*
National Weather Service
Lake Charles, LA


August 26th, 1852: A tropical storm formed north of the Dominican Republic on the 19th, then moved west through the Florida Straits. In the Gulf, movement became northwest and the hurricane made landfall at the Mouth of the Pascagoula River on the night of the 25th. It was hardly noticed on Lake Pontchartrain. Four new channels were cut through Chandeleur Island. The storm claimed the 55 foot tall Chandeleur Island lighthouse and replaced it with a broad 10 foot deep lagoon (Cipra). The keepers were rescued three days later, on the verge of starvation. The schooners Josephine and Walter M. went ashore on Cat Island.   

September 15-16th, 1855: A storm swept out of the Gulf across Fort St. Phillip and Lake Borgne, before moving into Mississippi. It was considered the worst since 1819 and was felt as far east as Apalachicola Bay. At Proctorville (Yscloski), bathhouses and the wharf were consumed by the waves that ran inland. Water was as deep as 4 feet on Proctor's Landing. At Lake Borgne, water began to rise during the afternoon of the 15th. A "smart breeze" was blowing by sunset. Winds had increased to a "perfect hurricane" by midnight. A number of homes fell victim.

At Cat Island, the light keeper's dwelling was wrecked and its lighthouse was in "severe peril". Most everything along the Mississippi coast was swept away with the tide. The Atchafalaya and Ship Shoal lightships were torn from their moorings and grounded. Both lightships were repaired and returned to service in 1856 (Cipra). The ship Venice was pushed into the banks of the Mississippi River and sprang a leak by the strong gale. The steamer J.S. Chenoweth sank in the Mighty Mississippi.   

August 10-12th, 1856: Hurricane strikes Isle Derniere, Last Island, a pleasure resort south- southwest of New Orleans. The highest points were under 5 feet of water. The resort hotel and surrounding gambling establishments were destroyed, over 200 people perished, and the island was left void of vegetation and split in half. Only one terrified cow survived on the Isle. Last Island is now only a haven for pelicans and other sea birds.

The rain total at New Orleans reached 13.14". Every house in the town of Abbeville was leveled, including the St. Mary Magdalen Church. Rains from the storm flooded the Mermentau River and destroyed crops along the bottom lands. Area rice fields in Plaquemines parish were under several feet of salt water. Nearly all rice was lost. Orange trees were stripped of their fruit. The steamer Nautilus foundered. The lone survivor cling to a bale of cotton and washed ashore sometime later.    

1860: Number 1, August 11th On the fourth anniversary of the Last Island disaster, another hurricane made landfall in Southeast Louisiana. The Mississippi rose 3 feet during the storm. The old site of Proctorville, now Yscolski, had hardly a house left standing... its lighthouse also leveled. The Bayou St. John lighthouse was destroyed. The Cat Island lighthouse was demolished, along with its keeper's dwelling. The Island was inundated, causing the loss of 300 cows.

Storm surges extended eastward along the entire Mississippi coast. The sugarcane crop laid in ruin. Trees were uprooted throughout the Plaquemines and Balize (Pilottown). Up to ten feet of water inundated the region. Crops of rice and corn were entirely ruined. The influence of the storm extended eastward to Pensacola, where it rained 3.03" and a strong gale ensued on the 11th. Over 47 people died...damaged totaled $260,000. 

1860: Number 2, September 14-15th Another hurricane struck near the Mouth of the Mississippi, worst at Balize (Pilottown). The gale raged for about 20 hours across extreme Southeast Louisiana, and large hail fell. Every building in Balize was either blown down by the wind or washed away by the storm surge. The third Bayou St. John lighthouse was damaged beyond repair. Lower portions of Plaquemines parish were covered by several feet of water, drowning several people. Tides rose to 6 feet above the high tide mark.

All wharves along the south side of Lake Pontchartrain were destroyed. But it was no better in Mississippi...the lighthouse at Bay St. Louis was swept away along with one of its hotels. In total, damages exceeded $1 million. 

1860: Number 3, October 2-3rd A third hurricane within seven weeks produced severe damage to houses, businesses, boats, and crops as far inland as Baton Rouge. The storm made landfall in the Atchafalaya Swamp and swept northeast. It only carried with it a 12 to 15 inch storm surge at Port a la Hache, likely due to its rapid movement.

Whatever was left of the sugar crop, along with the machinery employed in producing it, laid in ruin. Heavy losses were reported in Vermilion, Feliciana, Alvermarle, Bayou Lafourche, Pointe Coupee, St. Bernards, and Terrebonne as well. Eleven miles of railroad track were washed out near New Orleans, where the rain total was 5.02" during the storm.

The system continued northeast and produced the highest winds Natchez had seen since the Tornado of 1840. Trees fell in great numbers in Concordia Parish as they experienced stiff north winds. Gales were seen eastward to Pensacola, as with the first storm in 1860.

Just on the Louisiana side of the Sabine river lies a vast expanse of marshland. Within this region is the town of Johnson's Bayou (now known as Johnson Bayou). French fur traders traversed the area during the 1700's to barter with the local Native American tribe, the Attakapas. The first permanent settler was Daniel Johnson, who arrived in 1790. Cotton was the town's primary crop. This location was cutoff and virtually isolated from the outside world until 1960.

September 13th, 1865: Hurricane strikes extreme Southwestern Louisiana. Considered similar to Audrey in strength, but smaller in areal extent. Niblet's Bluff was completely destroyed. One person died in Johnson Bayou where many homes were leveled. The area around Calcasieu (Big) Lake was inundated by the storm surge. Grand Chenier was also put under water by the storm, where several more people died. Fragments of furniture and homes were found afloat several miles up the Calcasieu. Twenty-five people lost their lives to the hurricane, most at Leesburg (now Cameron).

The tides were high as far east as the Mississippi River, where rains and high winds were noted on the 13th. Extensive flooding occurred in Feliciana Parish. The entire Balize settlement and its "Pilottown" were abandoned years before. Everything left in the area was obliterated during the storm. The ship Lone Star was wrecked while in Galveston Bay, and vessels trying to save the survivors almost foundered as well. 

October 22-23rd, 1865: Hurricane affected Louisiana coast. 


* Author's current affiliation: NWS National Centers for Environmental Prediction - Hydrometeorological Prediction Center, Camp Springs, Maryland

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