66 years ago today, Hurricane Hazel made its way all the way to western New York

Weather Blog

ROCHESTER, NY (WROC) – On October 16th, 1954 Hurricane Hazel made the remarkable journey all the way from the tropics to eventually the northeast United States where it went through a very unique life cycle. Seems impossible? Not entirely…

A week or so back, I stumbled upon a map of all the tropical cyclone tracks recorded in the Atlantic basin since 1851. If you look at the tracks of all the tropical systems that have made landfall across the United States, one line in particular stood out to me.

You can find the full PDF version of the map below HERE.

Photo courtesy: nhc.noaa.gov

I circled the area in blue where one particular tropical track looked a bit odd to me. Looking at the legend seen in the photo below, I noticed that the line transitioning from red to yellow indicated a tropical system passing through both Pennsylvania and the Southern Tier of New York maintaining its hurricane status as it made its way through, before weakening to a tropical storm soon after. This immediately seemed strange to me, so I dug a little deeper.

Image courtesy: nhc.noaa.gov

This red to yellow line, indicating that there was at one point a tropical system of hurricane status trekking through the lands of our region, was found to be from the one and only Hurricane Hazel.

This appears to be the only storm on record to have maintained hurricane status for such a long period of time and over a significant amount of land. Before it got there though, it had quite the interesting transformation. Here’s what happened.

Event Overview:

This storm ended up being the deadliest and costliest hurricane of the 1954 hurricane season, and was the strongest and only Category 4 hurricane to ever hit the North Carolina coast. As it made its way over the Caribbean and ultimately Haiti, it claimed numerous lives as a quickly strengthening hurricane. By the time it reached the Carolina’s it was a major Category 4 storm with winds whipping, and creating several feet of storm surge and flooding to the coast. The storm didn’t stop there as it continued to trek northward all the way up the northeast towards upstate New York.

By the time the storm arrived over Pennsylvania it has weakened significantly, but something very interesting and very uncommon happened next. Almost as quickly as the storm weakened, an incoming trough from the west caused the weak storm remnants to rapidly restrengthen into an extra-tropical cyclone, like fuel being fed to the dying fire at just the right time. It was this newly formed system still carrying slight tropical characteristics and strong, damaging winds that was named Hazel II. Hazel was born again just south of the Great Lakes, and was strong enough to create wind gusts over 90 mph reported in parts of New York State.

Timeline Breakdown:

  • October 5th – Formed approximately 50 miles east of the island of Grenada in the Windward Islands
  • October 8th – Moved west over the Caribbean Sea before making a sharp turn north from a nearby upper level low
  • October 9th – Quickly strengthened to a Category 4 storm with max sustained winds at 135 mph
  • October 9th-12th – Moved through Haiti where it claimed between 400 and 1,000 lives. It then went on to weaken to winds around 100 mph before restrengthening over the warm, tropical ocean waters.
  • October 13th-14th – Another northward turn towards the Bahamas before strengthening to 150 mph winds moving at 30 mph
  • October 15th – Makes landfall in the morning on the border of North and South Carolina where it began to transition to extra-tropical storm. By that evening the storm has turned more northward and accelerated, entering Pennsylvania where it rapidly dissipated.
  • October 15th – During the evening the storm makes yet another northward turn, accelerating towards Pennsylvania where the storm weakens. The rapid transformation of energy between the incoming front and the dying storm reignites to form extra-tropical cyclone Hazel II over New York State.
  • October 16th – Moves over Toronto, Canada as it continues to claim 17 more lives from flooding rains
Image courtesy: weather.gov/

Tropical storms will transition into extra-tropical cyclones when the storm begins to draw its energy from the strong temperature differences of frontal systems found in the mid-latitudes. Rather than from the latent heat released from the large amount of condensing water vapor as it rises from the warm, ocean waters of the tropics.

Fig. 1 shows the interaction between Hurricane Hazel and the approaching trough with its associated cold front over the Great Lakes. Fig. 2 shows Hazel II as it consolidates into its new extra-tropical form.

First hand story from our community…

Photo courtesy: weather.gov/

Event information from:

https://www.weather.gov/mhx/Oct151954EventReview

http://www.ec.gc.ca/ouragans-hurricanes/default.asp?lang=En&n=5C4829A9-1

~Meteorologist Christine Gregory

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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