The Life Cycle of a Hurricane

Hurricane Hazel had a life cycle seldom seen in most other hurricanes. Hazel turned out to be one of the worst hurricanes of the 20th century and one of the most intriguing. Born in the Caribbean as a tropical storm on October 5, 1954, Hazel quickly developed into a category 4 hurricane. According to the National Hurricane Center, Hazel made landfall in Haiti killing approximately 1000 people. The Bahamas lost six people to Hazel.

Hazel then turned to the northwest straight to the American east coast at an incredible speed of 30 mph. According to the National Weather Service, Hazel made landfall at the N Carolina-S Carolina border on October 15, 1954 as a category 4 hurricane with winds of 150 mph. It caused 15 to 18 foot surges on the North Carolina coast partly because Hazel struck during the October full moon; the highest lunar tide of the year. Hazel produced the largest swarth of hurricane-force winds in the 20th century over North Carolina and Virginia. Hazel made history as the worst storm ever in the coastal Carolinas and the only category 4 storm to make landfall in North Carolina.

According to the National Weather Service, Hazel killed 95 people in the United States and caused $281 million in damage. That’s almost $2 billion in 2005 dollars.

Hurricane Hazel became the storm that refused to die. The storm maintained its intensity further inland than most storms because it was moving so quickly. It contined on its northwest track over land reaching forward speeds near 55 mph. According to the National Hurricane Center, Hazel did something unusual over Raleigh, North Carlina on October 15. It transformed from a category 3 hurricane into an extratropical storm 1.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a hurricane can rarely transform into an extratropical storm at the end of its tropical existance. The primary energy source converts from the release of latent heat from condensation in hurricanes to a baroclinic process. The Canadian Hurrican Centre defines baroclinic as an atmosphere in which differences in temperature are significant enough that air density depends on both temperature and pressure. The warm core of a hurricane becomes cold. It usually connects with weather fronts to increase in size. After transformation, it may increase in strength.

The now historic Hazel still carried 100 mph winds in upstate New York. Then it ran into a cold-air mass over Toronto, Ontario, Canada early on October 16. Eleven inches of rain fell on Toronto over 48 hours. There were sustained winds of 77 mph, with gusts of 90 mph. The entire Toronto watershed flooded, with entire neighborhoods being washed away.

According to Enviroment Canada, Hazel killed 100 people in Canada; 81 in Toronto alone. It caused $100 million in damage. That’s about $1 billion in 2004 Canadian dollars.

Hazel weakened below hurricane strength about 120 miles north of Toronto and turned to the northeast into sparsely-populated areas. It turned into an extratropical depression and finally dissipated in northeastern Canada on October 18, 1954, according to the Canadian Hurricane Centre.

Hazel was retired from the list to name tropical storms. To this day, Hurricane Hazel remains as the most famous storm in Canadian history and remains as the strongest hurricane ever recorded to strike so far inland.