A university researcher has reconstructed a catastrophic two-century-old hurricane that is among the worst to ever strike the City of New Orleans. Historical records reveal the Hurricane of 1812 was likely a Category 4 storm with winds topping 130 miles per hour.
The August 19, 1812 hurricane is possibly the strongest hurricane to clobber the City of New Orleans. Or at least that was the case until Hurricane Ida made landfall as a strong Category 4 storm on August 29, 2021. Little was known about the 200+ year old hurricane until Dr. Cary Mock, a geographer at the University of South Carolina, started digging through historical records. “It landed a little bit to the south and west of New Orleans, about 40 miles,” Mock said. “And that’s when you would get the strongest onshore winds and potentially a very strong storm surge.” And Mock believes it was a major hurricane, “With the storm surge as big as I think it was in 1812 and a relatively small size, the winds had to really be high. So I think it’s safe to say it’s a Category 4.”
Reconstructing the 1812 New Orleans hurricane
Mock describes his research as putting together a puzzle. He found old newspaper stories, ship protests and weather reports from ships. “It was the War of 1812, so they had a lot of ships around,” Mock said. One of those sailing ships was the USS Enterprise, which was located at New Orleans due to a British blockade of the Mississippi River. “So we’re lucky”, Mock said, “that we have the Enterprise that was recording conditions right at New Orleans.” Reports also came from other ships that were in the area. Those multiple observations of wind direction and speed and the times of those observations helped Mock recreate the path of the hurricane.
tv feature on the new orleans hurricane of 1812
Mock published his findings in the journal of the American Meteorological Society. The report is entitled, ‘Great Louisiana Hurricane of 1812‘.
a french letter of devastation
There is another account of the 1812 Hurricane in the archives of The Historic New Orleans Collection. Louis de Tousard, the French Counsel to New Orleans, penned the letter to a woman in France.
Cecilia Hock, an interpreter with the museum, translated Tousard’s descripton of the hurricane. “He talks about the waters of the lake coming together with the waters of the river,” Hock explains, adding “the waters competed to cover all of this land, houses, buildings, men and animals with over ten feet of water.” And in closing the letter, Tousard writes, “If it had lasted two more hours, I wouldn’t be writing this to you. There would be no one to tell the news of the storm.”