Category 3 Atlantic hurricane in 1985 / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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Hurricane Elena was a tropical cyclone that affected eastern and central portions of the United States Gulf Coast in late August and early September 1985. Threatening popular tourist destinations during Labor Day weekend, Elena repeatedly deviated from its forecast path, triggering evacuations of unprecedented extent. The hurricane wrought havoc to property and the environment between southwestern Florida and eastern Louisiana, though lesser effects were felt well beyond those areas. Elena developed on August 28 near Cuba, and after traveling lengthwise across the island with little impact, it entered the Gulf of Mexico and continued to strengthen. Initially projected to strike the central Gulf Coast, the hurricane unexpectedly veered toward the east on August 30, then stalled just 50 mi (80 km) west of Cedar Key, Florida. Despite predictions that Elena would continue eastward across Florida, the cyclone remained nearly stationary for about 48 hours, causing damage all along the eastern gulf with high winds and waves, before slowly moving northwest and ultimately making landfall near Biloxi, Mississippi, on September 2 as a Category 3 major hurricane. The storm quickly weakened upon moving ashore and dissipated on September 4.
|Category 3 major hurricane (SSHWS/NWS)|
|Formed||August 28, 1985|
|Dissipated||September 4, 1985|
|Highest winds||1-minute sustained: 125 mph (205 km/h) |
|Lowest pressure||953 mbar (hPa); 28.14 inHg|
|Damage||$1.3 billion (1985 USD)|
|Areas affected||Cuba, United States (Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Kentucky)|
|Part of the 1985 Atlantic hurricane season|
The hurricane's unpredictable shifts in direction created what was considered the largest peacetime evacuation in the nation's history. Evacuations occurred in sequence to follow the storm's forecast positions, and many residents and tourists along portions of the Gulf Coast were forced to leave twice in a matter of days. Preparations were generally timely and efficient, though accommodations and resources at storm shelters were stretched thin, and many refugees tried to return home against officials' orders. About 1.25 million people fled the storm in Florida alone, contributing to a region-wide total of nearly 2 million evacuees. Tropical cyclone warnings and watches were continuously issued and adjusted, and forecasters stressed the storm's destructive potential for days.
Elena's slow movement off western Florida resulted in severe beach erosion and damage to coastal buildings, roads, and seawalls, especially to those of old or inadequate construction. Destruction was greatest near the shore and on islands such as Cedar Key and Dog Island, though tornadoes spawned by the hurricane swept through communities and mobile home parks well inland. The hurricane devastated the Apalachicola Bay shellfish industry, killing large quantities of oysters, destroying their reefs, and leaving thousands of workers unemployed. Farther west, Dauphin Island in Alabama endured wind gusts as high as 130 mph (210 km/h) and a significant storm surge. The island sustained some of the most significant damage inflicted by Elena, including several hundred damaged or demolished homes. The rest of the state's coast also sustained considerable damage, and the inland pecan and soybean crops were severely diminished in Alabama and Mississippi.
Over 13,000 homes were damaged in Mississippi, and 200 were destroyed. Cities close to the Alabama border—including Pascagoula—experienced widespread damage to residences, schools, and businesses, and the community of Gautier was effectively isolated from the outside world. Several apparent but unconfirmed tornadoes appear to have exacerbated the damage in the Gulfport area. Wind damage extended into portions of eastern Louisiana. Overall, nine people died as a result of the hurricane: two in Texas due to drownings in rip currents, three in Florida, two in Louisiana, one in Arkansas, and one in a maritime accident in the Gulf of Mexico. Damage totaled about $1.3 billion, and power outages from the storm affected 550,000 people. In Elena's wake, President Ronald Reagan declared parts of Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida federal disaster areas, making storm victims eligible for financial aid and temporary housing. The name Elena was later retired from the cyclical list of Atlantic hurricane names because of the storm's effects.