USC geographer recreates Louisiana hurricane of 1812
Nearly 200 years before Hurricane Katrina, a major storm hit the coast of Louisiana just west of New Orleans. Because the War of 1812 was simultaneously raging, the hurricane’s strength, direction and other historically significant details were quickly forgotten or never recorded.
But a University of South Carolina geographer has reconstructed the storm, using maritime records, and has uncovered new information about its intensity, how it was formed and the track it took.
Dr. Cary Mock’s account of the “Great Louisiana Hurricane of 1812” appears in the current issue of the Journal of the American Meteorological Society, a top journal for meteorological research.
“It was a lost event, dwarfed by history itself,” said Mock, an associate professor in the College of Arts and Sciences. “Louisiana was just in possession by the United States at the time, having been purchased from France only years before, and was isolated from the press.”
Mock says historians have long known that a hurricane hit New Orleans on Aug. 19, 1812, but they didn’t know the meteorological details about the storm.
“Hurricane Katrina is not the worst-case scenario for New Orleans, as its strongest winds were over water east of the eye,” said Mock. “The 1812 hurricane was the closest to the city, passing just to the west. It wasn’t as big as Katrina, but it was stronger at landfall, probably a mid-three or four category hurricane in terms of winds.”
Detailed information about past hurricanes is critical to helping climatologists today forecast and track hurricanes. But until recently, little was known of hurricanes that occurred before the late 19th century, when weather instrumentation and record keeping became more sophisticated and standardized. Mock’s research has shed light on much of the nation’s hurricane history that has remained hidden for centuries.