1947’s Hurricane George Distinguished as First Named Storm on U.S. Soil

Posted: May 29, 2022 2:33 am

Details of Historic Hurricane George

With the official start of the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season just days away, some weather experts are taking a trip down memory lane and commemorating the upcoming 75-year anniversary of the first named storm of this nature.

Looking Back at the History of the Storm Naming System

While some historians claim that residents of the West Indies have been naming hurricanes for over hundreds of years, it was not until the 1947 Atlantic hurricane season that U.S. officials labeled tropical storms using names derived from the Joint Army/Navy Phonetic Alphabet. However, because these names were only used internally and not disseminated to the public, the listings are not part of the official database minted by the National Hurricane Center (NHC) Hurricane Database (HURDAT).

This makes the 1953 season the first recognition of names in the HURDAT system. 1953 marks the first year that storms were organized and named alphabetically. Some experts also recognize the 1950 as a benchmark as it was the first season that saw names designate storms that were published to the public.

Origin of Hurricane George’s Name

So what was the first officially recognized hurricane of the Atlantic basin? That designation belongs to Hurricane George. During the inaugural hurricane season of 1947, storms were assigned names using the military phonetic alphabet. Before NATO came into existence in 1949, the U.S. and the United Kingdom used the same phonetic alphabet known as the 1943 CCB.

It makes sense that the U.S. Air Force used this alphabet to begin naming tropical storms in 1947. Prior to George’s arrival, the 1947 season saw Tropical Storm One known as Baker, Hurricane Two known as Charlie, and Hurricane Three known as Dog-Easy. The third hurricane was accidentally assigned two names from the alphabet because the Air Force thought it was two separate storm systems when it was first spotted.

Although Baker and Dog-Easy caused a small amount of damage in the U.S., it was not until Hurricane Four, known as George, rushed onshore that the U.S. saw its official first named hurricane in history.

History of Hurricane George

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George got its start on September 2 as a mere tropical wave. It only took two days for the wave to strengthen into a tropical storm. The system was given the name George by the U.S. Air Force one day before it reached hurricane strength on September 5.

George tracked in a southwestward direction over the next few days before it made a sharp turn to the northwest on September 9. It was at this point that the storm began to really pick up steam, growing stronger and larger on its way to a Category 4 designation on September 15. By this date, Hurricane George was spinning near the Bahamas with winds of 145 mph.

George stalled once it reached the Bahamas, dumping over two feet of rain on Abaco Island. This island also saw George’s strongest winds of its existence thus far, reaching 160 mph. The residents of Abaco Island would not see a storm of this magnitude until 2019 when Hurricane Dorian camped out over the island for 24 hours as a Category 5 monster.

Churning Toward the U.S.

As George was making its way through the Bahamas, meteorologists were predicting that the path would curve along the Eastern Seaboard hitting either northeastern Florida or the southeastern corner of Georgia. George had other plans, staying on a westward course from the Bahamas and taking aim at South Florida.

Hurricane George came on to shore in Fort Lauderdale on September 17. The storm was often referred to as the 1947 Fort Lauderdale Hurricane as people were not yet used to the modern naming system. Estimated wind gusts associated with George hit as high as 180 mph in some parts of South Florida.

The damage was immense as the slow-moving hurricane tore apart homes and other structures. Hurricane George was blamed for 17 fatalities in Florida. A newly instituted warning system was credited for saving many lives.

After hitting South Florida, the storm crawled across the Sunshine State at a snail’s pace. While it gradually transitioned to a Category 2 storm as it moved across the width of the state, it still was able to pack quite a punch with it roared into Everglades City and the Fort Myers area.

What Came Next for George?

By September 18, George was churning through the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. While in this area, the storm killed seven crew members working on a Cuban fishing boat. The storm came on shore in Louisiana on September 19, hitting the business district of New Orleans.

New Orleans recorded over two feet of rain in some areas, leaving the Moisant Airport battered. Storm surge was also a significant issue in the Crescent City, cresting over 11 feet in the hardest-hit areas. Louisiana reported 12 fatalities as a result of George. It was not until Hurricane Katrina in 2005 that a tropical event skirted so close to New Orleans.

Mississippi also experienced devastating impacts due to George’s arrival on the Gulf Coast. 22 people lost their lives in this state, bringing George’s total death toll in the U.S. to 51. The storm was also responsible for $160 million in damage.

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