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Savannah's Stormy History

As the residents of the Savannah area stream back home after the evacuations, WTOC-TV Meteorologist Patrick Prokop reviews past hurricanes in the area.

In 1979, Hurricane David had 92 mph winds off Ossabaw Sound. It made landfall just south of Savannah, moving northward. But the storm weakened rapidly as it passed over Savannah. Perhaps it was not even a hurricane when it went over the city that Labor Day.

Many residents, however, had no electricity for more than a week and in some cases even two weeks as a result of the felled power lines.

The last hurricane to come ashore in Georgia before David was in 1947 and also was weak by hurricane standards. This storm had winds probably less than 100 mph but hit twice, according to residents then.

A storm in 1940 (a little less strong than Hugo that hit Charleston in 1989) produced considerable tree and structural damage throughout the area. Prior to that time, no other hurricane had hit the Savannah area or even the Georgia coast since 1898.

If you look at the history of hurricanes that have made landfall along the Georgia coast during the 1900s, you might ask yourself, "Why all the worry?" Only three storms have slammed into the coast in the past 97 years. Is there a need for concern?

While only three hurricanes hit the Georgia and the extreme southern South Carolina coast in the 1900s, 13 such storms produced havoc for the developing coast during the 1800s. And unlike the weaker storms of the 1900s, in many cases, these storms were much more fierce.

In the 1890s alone, five hurricanes stuck the area, with two in 1898 and two in 1893. Other strong storms produced widespread damage in 1884, 1854 and 1824.

The storm in 1824 washed out all bridges between Darien and Savannah and was as destructive as the storm of 1804. That storm was most likely the worst storm during that century, stronger than that of 1893.

The main reason it did not have much notoriety was because there wasn't too much built yet to be destroyed. The entire state was less than a 100 years old at that time.

Aaron Burr - the one who dueled with and killed Alexander Hamilton - was living on St. Simons Island at the time and wrote a storm account, indicating that the eye passed directly over the island and destroyed nearly everything and killed many slaves and livestock. The loss of life was extensive and hardship was immense.

On Aug. 27, 1893, a ferocious storm approached the coast of Georgia. Warnings were circulated but the storm was much stronger that what could be imagined. The people of Tybee battened down the hatches and winds continued to accelerate beyond 100 mph, then 120 mph and perhaps even up to 150 mph!

As the eye of the storm moved overhead, the winds suddenly died. The residents knew that the winds would hit again and at the same force except from the opposite direction very shortly.

They also knew a terrible storm surge was now just momnts away. This would be an awful wall of water like a 20-foot tide crashing onshore in less than 30 minutes with waves of 20 to 25 feet on top of it.

The earlier ferocious winds had already greatly weakened their homes, and they knew there was not much chance of surviving in them. They climbed the tallest trees and tied themselves in, hoping and praying that they would be above the water and not blown away.

The eye of the storm went right over Tybee and into South Carolina bringing in that storm surge. And it inundated all land east of the Wilmington River. When it was all over, more than 2,000 people died in that storm; from Savannah northward to Charleston, many were washed out to sea.

By Patrick Prokop, WTOC-TV

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