Hurricane Camille

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Hurricane Camille
Hurricane Camille in the Gulf of Mexico

Hurricane Camille in the Gulf of Mexico
Duration August 14 - 22, 1969
Highest winds 190 mph (305 km/h) sustained
Damages $8.9 billion (2004 USD)
Fatalities 256 direct
Areas affected Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Southern United States (particularly major flooding in Virginia)
Part of the 1969 Atlantic hurricane season

Hurricane Camille was a Category 5 hurricane that struck the United States at peak intensity near the mouth of the Mississippi River on August 17 and August 18, 1969, causing catastrophic damage.


Storm history

Storm path
Storm path

Camille started as a tropical wave that left the coast of Africa on August 5, but it wasn't until August 14 that it developed a circulation near Grand Cayman. The wave already had strong winds, and was designated Tropical Storm Camille with 60 mile per hour (mph) winds. The storm had a well organized circulation from the start, and rapidly strengthened from August 14 to August 15 to a 115 mph major hurricane before hitting the western tip of Cuba. Land interaction weakened Camille to a 100 mph hurricane, but its perfect conditions returned as it crossed the Gulf of Mexico (see Loop Current).

On August 17, Camille reached an extreme minimum central pressure of 905 millibars, and it continued to strengthen to a peak of over 190 mph winds (possibly the strongest ever recorded in a hurricane). In the hours before landfall, a reconaissance aircraft was unable to obtain a surface wind report, but it estimated winds up to 180 knots (around 210 mph).

Camille hit near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi on the night of August 17, and weakened rapidly over land, becoming a tropical depression over northern Mississippi on the August 19. Camille turned eastward as it moved inland, unleashing torrential rains of up to 31 inches (790 mm) as far north as southern Virginia. By this point it had been downgraded to a tropical depression, but it re-emerged into the Atlantic Ocean east of Virginia, where it briefly became a 70 mph tropical storm before dissipating.

Ten most intense Atlantic hurricanes

Intensity is measured solely by central pressure

Rank Hurricane Year Minimum pressure
1 Wilma 2005 882 mbar (hPa)
2 Gilbert 1988 888 mbar (hPa)
3 Labor Day 1935 892 mbar (hPa)
4 Rita 2005 897 mbar (hPa)
5 Allen 1980 899 mbar (hPa)
6 Katrina 2005 902 mbar (hPa)
7 Camille 1969 905 mbar (hPa)
8 Mitch 1998 905 mbar (hPa)
9 Ivan 2004 910 mbar (hPa)
10 Janet 1955 914 mbar (hPa)
Source: The Weather Channel


Camille produced the seventh lowest barometric pressure ever recorded in the Atlantic basin, a scant 905 millibars; the only hurricane to hit the United States with a lower pressure at landfall was the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935. The wind speed of Camille can only be approximated, as no meteorogical equipment survived the extreme conditions at landfall, but Camille is estimated to have had sustained winds of 190 mph at landfall, with gusts exceeding 210 mph (340 km/h). Before Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Camille likely had the highest storm surge measured in the United States, at over 24 feet (7.3 metres).


Camille directly killed 143 people along Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana as it devastated an enormous area of the Gulf Coast; the area of total destruction in Harrison County, Mississippi was 68 square miles (176 km²). An additional 113 people perished as a result of catastrophic flooding in Nelson County, Virginia. In all, 8,931 people were injured, 5,662 homes were destroyed, and 13,915 homes experienced major damage, with many of the fatalities being coastal residents who had refused to evacuate. The total estimated cost of damage was $1.42 billion (1969 USD), or $8.889 billion (2004 USD); at the time this made Camille the second-most expensive U.S. hurricane of all time (behind Hurricane Betsy) though it would later be surpassed by numerous other hurricanes [1].

The name was retired after the 1969 season.

Comparisons to Hurricane Katrina

Comparisons between Hurricane Katrina of the 2005 season and Camille are inevitable because of their similar strengths and nearly identical landfall locations. Before Katrina, Camille was considered to be the "benchmark" against which all Gulf Coast hurricanes were measured. Katrina was weaker than Camille at landfall but substantially larger, which lead to a much higher storm surge. Katrina was described by those that experienced Camille as "much worse".

Most intense landfalling U.S. hurricanes

Intensity is measured solely by central pressure

Rank Hurricane Year Landfall pressure
1 Labor Day 1935 892 mbar (hPa)
2 Camille 1969 909 mbar (hPa)
3 Katrina 2005 918 mbar (hPa)
4 Andrew 1992 922 mbar (hPa)
5 Indianola 1886 925 mbar (hPa)
6 Florida Keys 1919 927 mbar (hPa)
7 Okeechobee 1928 929 mbar (hPa)
8 Donna 1960 930 mbar (hPa)
9 New Orleans 1915 931 mbar (hPa)
10 Carla 1961 931 mbar (hPa)
Source: U.S. National Hurricane Center



In 1969 the naming conventions for hurricanes were not strictly controlled as they are today. There were only three requirements: the name had to be female (male names were not used at that time), the names had to remain in alphabetical order, and the name could not have been retired. John Hope, a meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center had a daughter who had just graduated from high school. He added her name -- Camille -- to the list of storm names for the year, having no way of knowing that the storm bearing her name would become infamous.

The Hurricane Party

One persistent legend about Camille states that a hurricane party was held on the third floor of the Richelieu Manor Apartments in Pass Christian, Mississippi that wound up in the path of the eyewall as it made landfall. The high storm surge flooded and destroyed the building, and there was only one survivor to tell of the story of the 21 others. Who the survivor is, how many party guests there were, and just how far the sole survivor was swept by the storm varies with the retelling.

In reality, most of the people that stayed in the Richelieu Apartments survived, and there was no party. Residents, exhausted from helping to prepare the town to weather the storm, took refuge in the building not out of recklessness, but because it was believed to be one of the sturdiest buildings in the area. Survivor Ben Duckworth is quoted in Hurricane Camille: Monster Storm of the Gulf Coast as stating that the Richelieu was a designated civil defense air-raid shelter. However, their faith in the building's sturdiness was unfounded, as it was completely demolished by the storm. Twenty-three people are known to have stayed in the Richelieu Apartments during Hurricane Camille, of which eight died.

The tale of the lone survivor and the party appears to have originated with survivor Mary Ann Gerlach. Other survivors, including Duckworth and Richard Keller have expressed irritation at the story [2] [3].

"The hurricane party never happened, nor were the number of deaths associated with the apartment inhabitants accurate," says Pat Fitzpatrick, Mississippi State University professor and author of Hurricanes: A Reference Handbook [4].

The mythical hurricane party has been referenced several times in pop culture, and formed the basis for an episode of Quantum Leap titled "Hurricane".

See also

External links

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