Hurricane Ethel (1960)
|Category 5 hurricane (SSHS)|
|Surface weather analysis of Hurricane Ethel on September 15|
|Formed||September 14, 1960|
|Dissipated||September 17, 1960|
|Highest winds||1-minute sustained:
160 mph (260 km/h)
|Lowest pressure||972 mbar (hPa); 28.7 inHg|
|Damage||$1.5 million (1960 USD)|
|Areas affected||Southern United States and Ohio|
|Part of the 1960 Atlantic hurricane season|
Hurricane Ethel was one of two Category 5 Atlantic hurricanes in the 1960 Atlantic hurricane season. The sixth known tropical cyclone, fifth named storm, and fourth hurricane of the season, Ethel developed from a disturbance in the Gulf of Mexico on September 14. After becoming a tropical storm, Ethel rapidly intensified and became a hurricane six hours later. By early on September 15, the storm reached major hurricane intensity when it became a Category 3 hurricane on the Saffir–Simpson Hurricane Scale. At 0600 UTC on September 15, Ethel intensified to its peak as a Category 5 hurricane. However, shortly thereafter, Ethel rapidly weakened back to a Category 1 hurricane while brushing eastern Louisiana. Later on September 15, Ethel weakened to a tropical storm. Early on the following day, Ethel made landfall in Pascagoula, Mississippi. The storm gradually weakened inland, before eventually dissipating over southern Kentucky on September 17.
Because the storm rapidly weakened before landfall, a potential "worst-case scenario" was avoided. In Louisiana, the western edge of the storm produced light rainfall and hurricane force winds, though no damage occurred in that state. Offshore of Mississippi, rough seas inundated Horn Island and split Ship Island. Tropical storm force winds in the southern portion of the state littered broken glass, trees, and signs across streets in Pascagoula, as well as down power lines, which caused some residents to lose electricity. In Alabama, winds damaged beach cottages in cities along the Gulf Coast, and damaged crops in five counties in the southern portion of the state. Although large amounts of precipitation fell in the extreme western portions of the state, no flooding occurred in Florida. A lightning strike to a power station near Tallahassee caused a briefly city-wide blackout. The storm spawned four tornadoes in Florida, one of which destroyed 25 homes. Outside the Gulf Coast of the United States, rain fell in other states, but no damage is known to have occurred. Overall, Ethel caused 1 fatality and $1.5 million (1960 USD) in damage.
Meteorological history 
Hurricane Ethel originated from a small tropical disturbance over the Gulf of Mexico on the morning of September 14, 1960. It is estimated that Ethel developed into a tropical storm at 1200 UTC on that day, with an initial intensity of 45 mph (75 km/h). The disturbance quickly developed within a region favoring intensification and the New Orleans Hurricane Warning Office issued their first advisory on the system, classifying it as an area of low pressure, at 1500 UTC. Roughly six hours after becoming a tropical storm, Ethel was upgraded to a hurricane as it underwent an intense phase of explosive deepening. By this time, gale-force winds extended 150 miles (240 km) to the north of the center and 80 miles (130 km) to the south. Ethel further intensified into a major hurricane, as it approached the Gulf Coast of the United States.
Following a pass through the storm by a United States Navy reconnaissance plane, Ethel was declared a "severe hurricane" with winds reaching 160 mph (260 km/h), equivalent to a modern-day Category 5 hurricane on the Saffir–Simpson Hurricane Scale. At the time these winds were measured, a barometric pressure of 972 mbar (hPa; 28.7 inHg) was recorded, the lowest in relation to the hurricane. However, shortly thereafter, cool, dry air began to entrain the storm, causing it to rapidly weaken. In a six-hour span, the storm suddenly weakened to a Category 1 hurricane, a decrease of 70 mph (110 km/h).
As Ethel neared landfall, forecasters within the United States Weather Bureau were unsure of the future track and intensity of the hurricane due to the unusual strengthening and weakening. Around 1100 UTC on September 15, the center of Ethel brushed the coastline of Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana with winds of 90 mph (150 km/h). Continuing northward, the hurricane further weakened to a tropical storm as it was approaching the Gulf Coast of the United States. Shortly before 0000 UTC on September 16, Ethel made landfall in Pascagoula, Mississippi with winds of 70 mph (110 km/h). Gradual weakening took place as the storm moved inland over Mississippi and by 1800 UTC on September 16, Ethel was further downgraded to a tropical depression. The remnants of the former hurricane continued moving towards the north-northwest before dissipating on September 17 over southern Kentucky.
Although the US Navy reconnaissance plane recorded winds of 160 mph (260 km/h), the actual peak intensity of Ethel has been in dispute since. Due to an abnormally high minimum barometric pressure of 972 mbar (hPa; 28.7 inHg), it is believed that Ethel may have only peaked as a Category 2 hurricane, which is calculated with the pressure to wind relationship. In addition, the extreme intensification and rapid weakening deems it more unlikely that Ethel had peaked as a Category 5 hurricane.
Prior to Ethel's arrival, adequate warning allowed roughly 12,000 residents along the Mississippi coastline to evacuate to shelters, set up at churches and schools. Along a 200 miles (320 km) stretch of the Gulf Coastline, all fishing villages fully evacuated to safer places. In Louisiana, at least 2,000 people had been evacuated from Grand Isle. Other towns were placed under emergency evacuations where Coast Guard boats were used to move residents to safer areas. Military aircraft were also moved from Keesler Air Force Base to other airfields across the country. Numerous schools and businesses were closed on September 15 in fears of a worst-case scenario, a storm with 160 mph (260 km/h) winds passing directly over Mobile, Alabama, a city of roughly 150,000 people. In Florida, the National Weather Bureau stated that preparations were not being undertaken fast enough nor as extensive as warranted. According to the Red Cross, 48,000 people in the threatened region sought refuge in shelters; civil defense stated that 65,000 residents moved to shelters.
Along the Mississippi coastline, Ethel brought a relatively small storm surge of 5 feet (1.5 m); however, it caused substantial beach erosion throughout the barrier islands. Roughly 1.8 miles (2.9 km) of the east end of Horn Island was lost. Ship Island was also split in two, creating east and west Ship Islands. However, this split was not well known until Hurricane Camille in 1969 which substantial widened the split. Throughout the state, sustained winds were recorded up to 60 mph (97 km/h) with gusts up to 70 mph (110 km/h). In Pascagoula, broken glass, fallen trees and signs covered the streets. Several areas were also flooded and power was lost in area where power lines were downed by high winds. Following the storm, Governor of Mississippi Ross Barnett ordered 100 National Guardsmen to Pascagoula and more were requested in other areas.
In Louisiana, the compact nature of Hurricane Ethel resulted in only the far eastern portions of the state being impacted. A maximum of 7.45 inches (189 mm) of rain fell in the state. Before the storm rapidly weakened, there were fears that a large storm surge would inundate the region. However, when the storm passed, a maximum surge of 7 feet (2.1 m) was recorded. Although Ethel weakened significantly, high winds still lashed eastern Louisiana. At the United States Coast Guard station in Quarantine, sustained winds reached 92 mph (148 km/h). In Venice, a sustained wind speed of 90 mph (140 km/h) was recorded and gusts up to 105 mph (169 km/h) were reported. While preparing for the storm, one person suffered a fatal heart attack caused by storm induced stress. High winds also affected Alabama, with gusts between 60 and 70 mph (97 and 110 km/h) reported at Fort Morgan. Slight damage to beach cottages occurred in Dauphin Island, Gulf Shores, and Mobile Bay. Minor crop losses were reported in Clarke, Escambia, Mobile, Monroe, and Washington counties. The storm spawned at least one tornado in the state, which demolished a barn, damaged a house, uprooted several trees, and destroyed a cotton field in Gosport.
Hurricane Ethel also brought heavy rains and strong winds to much of the Florida Panhandle as it moved inland over Mississippi. A maximum of 12.94 in (329 mm) of rain fell in extreme northwestern Florida, the highest total in relation to the storm. In Tampa, there were fears that Ethel would cause the Hillsborough River to overflow its banks; however, this did not occur, sparing Tampa from further damage, after being struck by Hurricane Donna earlier in September. The highest wind gust in the state was 50 mph (80 km/h), measured in both Pensacola and Apalachicola. A strong thunderstorm associated with Ethel produced a lightning strike that hit a power station near Tallahassee, causing a city-wide blackout for 10 minutes. According to the Florida Highway Patrol, damage directly caused by hurricane in the state reached $100,000 (1960 USD). Additionally Ethel spawned four tornadoes, one of which reached F2 intensity and damaged or destroyed 25 homes near Panama City.
Outside the Gulf Coast of the United States, Ethel dropped rainfall in the states of Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, and Ohio. However, damage in those states, if any is unknown. Throughout its path, Ethel caused $1.5 million (1960 USD) in damage and one indirect fatality.
See also 
- "Hurricane Ethel Nears Alabama, Florida Coasts". St. Petersburg Times. Associated Press. September 15, 1960. p. 2. Retrieved May 23, 2010.
- Hurricane Research Division (2009). "Easy-to-read HURDAT 1851–2008". National Hurricane Center. Retrieved November 28, 2009.
- United States Weather Bureau (December 27, 1960). "Hurricane Ethel Preliminary Report" (PDF). National Hurricane Center. Retrieved November 28, 2009.
- Gordon E. Dunn (March 1961). "Monthly Weather Review: The Hurricane Season of 1960" (PDF). United States Weather Bureau. Retrieved November 28, 2009.
- Jeff Masters (September 14, 2007). "Ingrid is born; Humberto and Felix—a sign of climate change?". Weather Underground. Retrieved November 28, 2009.
- "Hurricane Ethel rips coast of Mississippi". The Bulletin. United Press International. September 15, 1960. p. 1.
- "Hurricane Ethel Is Now A Rain Storm". Ocala-Star Banner. Associated Press. September 16, 1960. p. 3. Retrieved May 24, 2010.
- Robert A. Morton (2007). "Historical Changes in the Mississippi-Alabama Barrier Islands and the Roles of Extreme Storms, Sea Level, and Human Activities" (PDF). United States Geological Survey. Retrieved May 23, 2010.
- David M. Roth (2012). "Tropical Cyclone Rainfall for the Gulf Coast". Hydrometeorological Prediction Center. Retrieved May 24, 2010.
- "Cleanup slowed in wake of Hurricane Ethel". The Bulletin. United Press International. September 16, 1960. p. 6. Retrieved May 24, 2010.
- "Storm Data – September 1960". National Climatic Data Center. 1960. pp. 108 and 109. Retrieved May 1, 2012.
- David M. Roth (October 5, 2009). "Hurricane Ethel – September 14–17, 1960". Hydrometeorological Prediction Center. Retrieved May 24, 2010.
- "River Crests In Tampa; Damage Not Widespread". St. Petersburg Times. United Press International. September 16, 1960. p. 7. Retrieved May 24, 2010.
- "Ethel". St. Petersburg Times. Associated Press. September 16, 1960. p. 2. Retrieved May 24, 2010.
- "Ethel Hits 3 Coastal Cities, Then Fades Out Over Land". St. Petersburg Times. Associated Press. September 16, 1960. p. 1. Retrieved May 24, 2010.