Little Bits of History

Billion Dollar Betsy

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 9, 2013
Hurricane Betsy track map

Hurricane Betsy track map

September 9, 1965: Hurricane Betsy comes ashore – again. On August 27, a tropical depression east of the Leeward Islands was picked up by reconnaissance aircraft. Later that day, the depression was upgraded to a tropical storm. By August 29, Betsy was classified as a hurricane and was 200 miles north/northeast of San Juan, Puerto Rico. The storm spent the next two days making a 275 mile loop north of Puerto Rico and was downgraded once again to a tropical storm.

On September 1 Betsy headed west and gained strength, once again a hurricane. The storm then made a second smaller loop as it paralleled the Bahamas. A high pressure front over the Eastern seaboard forced the tropical cyclone back down the east coast of Florida. On September 7, Betsy barely missed Nassau. On the night of September 8-9, the Upper Florida Keys were hit by the storm.

Entering the Gulf of Mexico, Betsy picked up speed and intensity. Over water, she was a Category 4 storm and only one mile per hour short of being a Category 5. The storm came ashore at Grand Isle, Louisiana as a Category 3 hurricane. Grand Isle is west of the Mississippi River and is hit by hurricanes on a regular basis. With Betsy, almost every building was destroyed. The hurricane moved up the Mississippi causing water levels to rise 10 feet in New Orleans. Hurricanes weaken over land and the residual tropical depression brought rains up the Mississippi and Ohio River basins until it dissipated over Ohio on September 12.

Betsy’s highest winds were measured at 155 mph. She caused extensive damage in the Bahamas, Florida, and Louisiana. There were 76 fatalities. She caused $1.42 billion in damages – the first unadjusted billion dollar storm. ($9.7 billion in 2009 USD). Eight offshore oil platforms were destroyed along with the landfall damages. Levees in New Orleans failed causing massive flooding in the Lower 9th Ward. Many houses were flooded up to the rooflines as the waters poured into the city. It took at least ten days for the water to recede enough for people to get back to their flooded homes.

“Anyone who has spent a few nights in a tent during a storm can tell you: The world doesn’t care all that much if you live or die.” – Anthony Doerr

“A few minutes ago every tree was excited, bowing to the roaring storm, waving, swirling, tossing their branches in glorious enthusiasm like worship. But though to the outer ear these trees are now silent, their songs never cease.” – John Muir

“Birds sing after a storm; why shouldn’t people feel as free to delight in whatever remains to them?” – Rose Kennedy

“For most of the history of our species we were helpless to understand how nature works. We took every storm, drought, illness and comet personally. We created myths and spirits in an attempt to explain the patterns of nature.” – Ann Druyan

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: Hurricane Katrina also hit the New Orleans region and landfall came in 2005, forty years after Betsy. The top wind speed of Katrina was 175 mph or 20 mph greater than Betsy. There were 76 fatalities directly caused by Betsy while Katrina accounted for 1,833 deaths. With Katrina, once again the levees failed, which accounted for the most significant death toll. Predicting hurricanes’ area of landfall had greatly increased in the intervening decades, but still people opted to stay in New Orleans. One million people had evacuated prior to the storm coming ashore, however that still left many people inside the city. Hurricanes take time to dissipate and Katrina was intact over land for 33 hours, moving ever farther inland. Flooding came from storm surge and the immense amount of rain, fifteen inches, the storm dropped.

Also on this day: Stop Bugging Me – In 1947, a computer bug is found.
Prison Riot – In 1971, the Attica Prison Riots began.
Crimean War – In 1855, the Siege of Sevastopol ended.

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