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August 30, 2005

Hurricane Katrina vs. Camille

Hurricane Camille - August 1969

Hurricane Katrina followed a track eerily similar to the worst hurricane ever to hit the contintent of North America in recorded history - Hurricane Camille. Both made landfall near the mouth of the Mississippi river and ravaged the state from one end to the other. We still have heard very little from the three counties on the Mississippi Gulf coast, and I expect the death toll of Mississippians to rise significantly from the current estimate of 80.

Hurricane Katrina was a devastating storm that has left the Gulf Coast without power, water, or fuel from Florida to Louisiana. However, it pales in comparison to Hurricane Camille. Although Hurricane Katrina was a category 5 hurricane in the Gulf, it had weakened to a Category 4 by the time it made landfall. Hurricane Camille made landfall as a Cat 5 with 200 mph winds and a storm surge "22-25 feet above mean tide". It erased civilization from the coast of Mississippi, from one end to the other. Brick hotels were reduced to concrete slabs. 6,000 housing units were totally destroyed. Camille washed ships onto the shore so large, that they were subsequently converted into bars and restaurants.

Although the eye of Katrina sported an impressive 902 millibars of atmospheric pressure over the Gulf, it weakened before making landfall to a Category 4 hurricane before making landfall.

When the Category 4 hurricane made landfall, it had a central pressure of 918 millibars, making it the third most intense tropical cyclone to hit the U.S. since records of hurricane activity were initiated. Hurricane Camille is the second most intense storm at 909 millibars at the time of landfall in 1969. The number one storm is the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 (which occurred before storms were being named) with a landfall central pressure of 892 millibars.

Hurricane Camille was a Category 5 hurricane when it made landfall.

Due to Camille's extreme intensity at landfall, meteorological conditions (winds, tides, pressure...etc.), were impossible to obtain. The National Hurricane Center estimates Camille had sustained winds of 190 mph with gusts in the 210 - 220 mph range. A Transworld oil rig platform tower that was abandoned as the hurricane approached, recorded gusts to 172 mph until failure. It has been estimated that from Biloxi to Gulfport, wind gusts were in excess of 180 mph, while from Long Beach to Waveland, winds likely exceeded 200 mph.

The lowest barometric pressure recorded on land in Camille was 909 mb (26.85) at Bay St. Louis. This is the second lowest barometric pressure ever measured in the United States. Only the 1935 Hurricane produced a lower pressure in the middle Keys of 892 Mb (26.35). Several reports of pressure under 915 Mb (27.00), were reported by survivors near the eye.

Hurricane Camille - August 1969

More images of the wrath of Hurricane Camille.

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Posted by Peenie Wallie on August 30, 2005 at 12:33 PM


Having been stationed at Keesler AFB in 1969 I was amazed some years later to hear the coastline in Biloxi was being developed and that casinos and resorts were being built. I'd studied Civil Engineering in college and after having seen the devastation caused by Camille questioned the logic of erecting any type of structure between the tracks and the beach in Biloxi. From everything I've heard and read Katrina didn't pack the punch that Camille did and still there appears to be total destruction. Photos of the areas effected in MS are identical to what I saw in 1969. If the government allows these areas to be redeveloped once again this will just be another colossal waste of the taxpayer's money! Man is no match for Mother Nature.

Posted by: jeff towns on September 4, 2005 at 7:50 PM

How does the greater breadth of Katrina relate to some kind of overall energy comparison of the two storms? Are any ideas shaping up about how potentially warmer water temperatures, should those occur, affect the configurations of hurricans?

Posted by: Peter Cross on September 7, 2005 at 11:03 PM

I dont know if the configurations will change, since hurricanes historicly power up more in warm water anyway. What I think will happen is the frequency of hurricanes will increase, and the odds of having a cat 5 hurricane will be greater. Katrinas great girth was because it was an unstable eye and was trying to stableise into a new eye, which in fact gave it 2 eyes before it hit so it was as wide as 2 camilles at least, but not as strong, moving slower, with a gargant storm surge.

Posted by: Samwise on September 22, 2005 at 12:36 PM

In terms of power there is NO CONTEST. As Muhammad Ali was to boxing, Wilt Chamberlain to basketball, Camille is and always will be the yardstick to which all other storms will be measured.

Posted by: jarrod 1 on December 13, 2005 at 3:53 PM

There are always bound to be disconnects between the meteorological intensity of a storm and its human impacts. Hurricanes per se are not disasters, but they can certainly precipitate disasters when they smash into vulnerable pockets of human civilization. My own recent book on Camille may be of interest to anyone who wonders why Katrina, at Category 3, had such a devastating impact on southeast Louisiana and coastal Mississippi when the relevant lessons should have been learned more than three decades earlier.

--Ernest Zebrowski
Category 5: The Story of Camille--Lessons Unlearned from America's most Violent Hurricane (University of Michigan Press)

Posted by: Zeb on January 18, 2006 at 4:38 PM

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