Remembering Camille: One of the Most Intense U.S. Hurricanes Hit 50 Years Ago This Weekend

Linda Lam
Published: August 16, 2019

Hurricane Camille made landfall 50 years ago this weekend as the second most intense hurricane to strike the continental U.S. on record. Only the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane was stronger.

Camille roared ashore on the night of Aug. 17, 1969, near Waveland, Mississippi, as a Category 5 hurricane. There are only three other Category 5 landfalls on record in the continental U.S., the other being the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane, Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and Hurricane Michael in 2018. In addition, Puerto Rico was hit in 1928 by the San Felipe hurricane, also a Category 5.

(MORE: Top Five Most Intense U.S. Hurricanes

The system that would become Camille became a tropical depression south of Cuba on Aug. 14, 1969. Conditions for strengthening were favorable and it quickly became a tropical storm.

Hurricane Camille's Track

Camille made its first landfall in western Cuba as a Category 3 hurricane on Aug. 15. It then rapidly intensified in the Gulf of Mexico and became a Category 5 hurricane on Aug. 16.

Hurricane watches were issued from Biloxi, Mississippi, to St. Marks, Florida, on the morning of Aug. 16. At that time, Camille was expected to turn toward the Florida Panhandle.

Camille did not turn toward Florida but instead tracked toward the Mississippi and Louisiana coast. Watches and warnings were issued as the storm approached.

Camille briefly weakened to a Category 4 hurricane due to an eyewall replacement cycle as it approached the Gulf Coast, but was a Category 5 hurricane when it made its landfall along the Mississippi Coast late on Aug. 17. It quickly weakened as it continued inland and was a tropical depression as it tracked through the Ohio Valley and into the mid-Atlantic.

Camille's central pressure at landfall was 900 millibars. The exact wind speeds at landfall will never be known, as all wind-measuring instruments near the core of Camille were destroyed. However, in re-analysis by the National Hurricane Center, winds were estimated at 175 mph, down from the original estimate of 190 mph.

Satellite image of Hurricane Camille over the Gulf of Mexico on Aug. 16, 1969.

Storm surge reached 24.6 feet in Pass Christian, Mississippi, and set a U.S. record that would be surpassed by that of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Because Camille was more compact, its devastating storm surge was focused on a narrower swath of coastline than that of Katrina.

Camille's impacts were far reaching, but the hardest hit areas were southeastern Mississippi and southwestern Alabama. Nearly complete destruction occurred along the coast of Mississippi coast for up to four blocks inland. Over 5,000 homes were destroyed and more than 13,000 homes experienced major damage.

Winds gusted to 100 mph across much of southern Mississippi, resulting in fallen trees and power lines, but no winds of hurricane force were observed in the Florida Panhandle.

A ship carried by Camille's storm surge rests alongside a home in Biloxi, Mississippi.
(NOAA Photo Library)

Crop damage was also severe in southeastern Mississippi and parts of southern Alabama.

Just over 10 inches of rain fell in Mississippi and Camille also brought heavy rainfall and destructive flash flooding to parts of western Virginia, where 27 inches of rain was measured.

One hundred forty-three people died from Camille's landfall and another 113 perished in Virginia from flash flooding from Camille's remnants. Camille caused damages equivalent to over $9 billion (adjusted for 2018).

Historic home destroyed by Hurricane Camille. All that was left was the front steps, highlighted by the red circle.
(NOAA Photo Library)

Hurricane Camille also forced the Mississippi River to flow backwards from its mouth to a distance of 125 miles north of Baton Rouge.

In addition, Camille inspired the development of the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale to give people a better idea of the strength of a hurricane.

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