Recapping the history of major hurricanes (category 3+) hitting the Georgia coast

I posted some of this information before, but this seems like a good time for a recap.

No major hurricanes — defined as those of category 3, 4, or 5 — made landfall on the Georgia coast in the 20th century.

But there were three major storms in the second half of the 19th century, including two in the 1890s.

First, here’s the path of the category 3 storm from 1854:

Here’s the devastating 1893 “Sea Islands Hurricane”:

And here’s the 1898 hurricane:

All of those images and the following text are from NOAA Revisits Historic Hurricanes:

During the 20th Century, Georgia did not have even a single major hurricane make a landfall along its coast. However, such absence did not continue back to the 19th Century. In contrast, Georgia experienced three major hurricanes in the later half of the 19th Century: a Category 3 in 1854 near Savannah, the Category 3 “Sea Islands Hurricane” in 1893 that killed 1000-2000 people near Savannah and a Category 4 in 1898 near Brunswick. Knowledge that such strong hurricanes have impacted this portion of the coast (and will undoubtedly hit again) is important for residents of Georgia to plan for the future.

Obviously, there were also less powerful storms that hit both in the 19th and 20th centuries, but Savannah and the Georgia coast have been lulled into complacency about hurricanes because of the generations that have passed without a major one.

There’s an amazing account from Victoriana Magazine of the devastation of 1893 as recounted in Scribner’s Magazine in 1894:

It should be said of this South Atlantic hurricane that it is the most disastrous that ever visited this coast. It struck helplessness where it was weak. It is not to be measured by the destruction to life which it caused, though that was something terrible, but by the suffering which has followed.

It is estimated – and the estimate is not in the nature of a rough guess – that two thousand five hundred lives were lost in the islands and on the adjacent coast. The truth would not be missed very far if the number were placed at three thousand. Not all of those were lost in the storm. Two thousand persons, the great majority of them Negroes, were drowned or killed on the night of the storm. The others died from exposure, from a lack of food, or from the malarial fever that was epidemic on the islands during the hot September days that succeeded the disturbance.

And here’s more about that 1893 storm as recounted in Tybee Island: The Long Branch of the South by Robert A. Ciucevich:

It’s worth noting the obvious. Coastal development has increased exponentially since 1893. A storm surge of 19 feet, especially at high tide, would inundate thousands of homes and businesses. You can see a small version of the Chatham Emergency Management Association’s storm surge map in this post, but I’d suggest looking at the much larger map by clicking on it. For some unknown reason, the red areas are for category 1 surges and so forth. As you can see, in a major hurricane (category 3, 4, or 5) the vast majority of Chatham County could be flooded. If large numbers of people in those areas chose not to evacuate in a major storm, we could see nightmarish results.

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