Georgia/South Carolina Hurricane – August 1881

A category 2 hurricane struck the coastal and interior areas of Georgia and South Carolina. Damage was greatest in Georgia where the majority of those killed had lived.

In August of 1881, a category 2 hurricane struck the coastal and interior areas of South Carolina and Georgia, in and around Savannah. The hurricane made landfall on Ossabaw Island so it has been named Georgia/South Carolina rather than South Carolina/Georgia to indicate the dominance of damage in Georgia where most of the seven hundred people who were killed by the hurricane had lived. This particular storm was somewhat overlooked in records of the time, probably because it was limited in its lateral coverage. However, very low pressures were recorded in Savannah at the hurricane’s peak and one instrument for measuring wind speed was blown away at 80 mph. Based on modern storm surge predictions, a category 2 storm that made landfall at the time of high tide would have inundated large portions of Isle of Hope. The Georgia/South Carolina storm was an example of the worst possible outcome from a category 2 event. After landfall it turned sharply toward the west and died out over northwestern Mississippi on August 29.

Hurricanes that strike Georgia and the Carolinas usually originate in the Atlantic Ocean east of the Bahamas. Many hurricanes that track north of the Greater Antilles eventually threaten this portion of the southeastern United States. Periodically, storms in the eastern Gulf of Mexico pass over the Florida peninsula and move up the Atlantic coast toward the Carolinas. Cold fronts that sit over the subtropical waters off the southeast coast have, on occasion, formed into hurricanes. Many of the largest and most intense tropical cyclones that strike the southeastern United States have long tracks covering thousands of miles. Numerous powerful hurricanes reached the Carolinas in the decades after 1881. Georgia, however, despite its earlier experience of several powerful hurricanes prior to 1881, has been largely free of major hurricanes for most of the twentieth century.

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