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Hurricanes: Science and Society
1893- Seas Islands Hurricane

The sixth tropical cyclone of the 1893 Atlantic hurricane season formed to the east of Cape Verde on 15 August. By 19 August, the system had intensified into a hurricane, reaching Category 3 strength on 22 August while located northeast of the Lesser Antilles. The hurricane then turned north-northwest as it approached the Bahamas on 25 August. That night, the first effects of the storm’s approach could be felt on the Sea Islands off the coast of Georgia and the barrier islands of South Carolina. Conditions rapidly deteriorated as the hurricane tracked parallel to the southeast U.S. coast for 161 km (100 mi) before making landfall as a Category 3 hurricane near Savannah, Georgia on 27 August. The hurricane carried an estimated 193 km/h (120 mph) winds and a tremendous storm surge (5 m/16 ft), which completely submerged many of the Sea Islands. The storm moved through South Carolina and up the East Coast before becoming extratropical over the Canadian Maritime Provinces on 1 September.

The hurricane’s storm surge caused a great amount of destruction to the Sea Islands and the peninsulas that line the Georgia and South Carolina coastlines. Some 2,000 people are said to have drowned during the event. Nearly every building on the Sea Islands was damaged beyond repair leaving 30,000 people homeless. It took over a month for the American Red Cross to arrive to the disaster areas, possibly due to ongoing efforts in response to another hurricane that had hit South Carolina in June. Relief efforts were further hampered by another Category 3 hurricane, which struck just north, near Charleston, South Carolina, on 13 October. After a significant 10-month relief campaign, housing and food resources had been restored to the Sea Islands. Damages from the hurricane totaled at least $1 million (1893 USD [$22.8 million 2007 USD])

Fast Facts:

  • At the time, the 1893 Atlantic hurricane season was the most destructive in U.S. history with two storms killing 2,000 people each. The 1893 hurricane season is also one of only two seasons (the other in 1998), where four hurricanes existed concurrently on the same day in the Atlantic basin.
  • Pressure in Savannah was measured at 960 mbar at the storm’s landfall; modern estimates put the pressure around 954 mbar at landfall, and possibly as low as 931 mbar at sea. This suggests that the hurricane was most likely stronger than a Category 3 storm at landfall. Researchers believe the hurricane was of equal intensity to the 1900 Galveston Hurricane, which is now estimated to have been the 2nd most deadly storm in the Atlantic Basin in the last 500 years, killing 8,000 to 12,000 people.
  • The hurricane reduced Beaufort, South Carolina to rubble. The phosphate industry that had thrived in the city since the 1870s was practically wiped out. Rice cultivation also ceased, as the fields became filled with saltwater. Economic turmoil plagued Beaufort for nearly half a century after the hurricane.
  • The destructive Hurricane Hugo would follow a similar course as the Sea Islands Hurricane nearly a century later. Damage reports from the 1893 hurricane are also very similar to the damage sustained from Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

Sources:

“Monthly Weather Review.” U.S Weather Bureau. 1893. Web.

“Sea Islands Hurricane.” Wikipedia. 2009. Web.

“1893 Atlantic Hurricane Season.” Wikipedia. 2009. Web.

Barnes, Jay. North Carolina’s Hurricane History. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1998. Pp. 48.

Sandrik, A., and Landsea, C. 2003. Chronological Listing of Tropical Cyclones affecting North Florida and Coastal Georgia 1565-1899. http://www.aoml.noaa.gov/hrd/Landsea/history/

This Day in Georgia History (August 27). Compiled by Ed Jackson and Charles Pou. The University of Georgia. http://georgiainfo.galileo.usg.edu/tdgh-aug/aug27.htm

The Great Island Storm of 1893. William and Fran Marscher.