Georgia/South Carolina Hurricane – August 1893

A hurricane of strength 3 struck South Carolina and Georgia in 1893 killing 1,500, making it the deadliest U.S. storm prior to 1900.

A category 3 hurricane, known as the “Sea Islands Hurricane,” made landfall in South Carolina in August of 1893 killing 1,500 people in Georgia and South Carolina, making it the deadliest U.S. storm prior to 1900. This hurricane was born as a tropical storm in the Cape Verde Islands and became a hurricane a week later. After a second week of travel, the hurricane reached South Carolina late in August. It gained its name because of the extensive damage it caused in the Sea Islands. Many of the people on these islands decided to leave before the storm actually hit, so the death toll there was minimal. The storm gradually turned toward the north, running parallel with the coast for about one hundred miles. Landfall occurred north of Savannah, Georgia, and from there it moved up the U.S. coast until it dissipated in the colder waters of the North Atlantic.

A heavy storm surge, at times as high as sixteen feet, accompanied the hurricane during its passage along the coast and at landfall. Destruction was widespread, homes everywhere having been destroyed. About 30,000 residents were homeless as a result. The tragedy was worsened by a delay in the arrival of the American Red Cross. The Red Cross had been fully occupied with the destruction caused by an earlier hurricane and was unable to reach Savannah until early in October. Even after its arrival, further delays occurred as some staff were called away to assist with damage from yet another storm. On the Atlantic Coast, in terms of number of hurricanes, the decade of the 1990s was one of the busiest ever. Not until the 1950s was there a comparable rate of hurricanes.

Hurricanes in the Southeast United States have always come in cycles rather than in trends toward more frequent or stronger storms. The period of the 1850s to the mid 1860s was quiet, the late 1860s through the 1890s were busy, and the first decade of the 1900s was quiet. There were five hurricane seasons with at least ten hurricanes per year in the active period of the late 1860s–1890s and none in the quiet periods. Earlier work had linked these cycles of busy and quiet hurricane periods in the twentieth century to natural changes in Atlantic Ocean temperatures. Advocates of the dangers of global warming continue to support this point of view; they feel that the devastation of New Orleans in 2005 supports their position. It is not a view that is held by all experts at the U.S. Hurricane Center and some from that center point out that the tragedy of New Orleans was due to faulty levees not temperature.

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