1961 Atlantic hurricane season

The 1961 Atlantic hurricane season officially began on June 15, 1961, and lasted until November 15, 1961. These dates conventionally delimit the period of each year when most tropical cyclones form in the Atlantic basin. The season had 7 major hurricanes, the second highest number on record, despite having only 8 total hurricanes. It is also one of only four seasons to have two or more hurricanes reach Category 5 status on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, the others being the 1960 season, 2005 season and the 2007 season.

The most notable hurricanes of the season were the two Category 5 hurricanes. Hurricane Carla struck Texas, killing 49 and causing $325 million ($2.03 billion in 2005 dollars) in damage. Hurricane Hattie devastated Belize, killing 200; Belize City was largely destroyed, leading to the eventual (1970) relocation of the national capital to Belmopan.


Hurricane Anna

The Intertropical Convergence Zone developed a tropical storm on July 20 over the southern Leeward Islands. An upper level anticyclone allowed continued development, and Anna became a hurricane that night while moving westward across the Caribbean Sea. The hurricane continued to intensify, and reached her peak of 115 mph the next day. It maintained that intensity until the 23rd, when land interaction with Honduras weakened it to a Category 2. There, Anna caused heavy flooding as it continued westward. It reached the coast of Belize on the 24th as a minimal hurricane, and dissipated shortly thereafter. Anna caused a total of $300,000 in damage (1961 dollars) and 1 death in Honduras.

Hurricane Betsy

A westward moving tropical wave became Tropical Storm Betsy on September 2 in the Tropical Atlantic. It moved northwestward with favorable conditions aloft, and steadily strengthened until its peak of 140 mph on the 5th. A trough off the east coast of the United States pushed Betsy northeastward, where it maintained hurricane strength until the 11th, west-southwest of Ireland. Betsy became extratropical on the 12th, and dissipated that day. It was one of three active hurricanes from September 7 to the 11th, a rare event in the Atlantic.

Hurricane Carla

Hurricane Carla caused 46 deaths (31 of them in Texas) and $2.03 billion (2000 dollars) in damage when it made landfall near Port Lavaca, Texas. Carla was one of the most intense hurricanes to make landfall in the United States, with a central pressure of 931 mbar and estimated wind speeds of 150 mph. Although the scale did not exist in 1961, Carla is now considered to be a Category 5 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale while over open waters.

Hurricane Debbie

The precursor to Hurricane Debbie was a tropical wave that moved off the coast of Africa. It became Tropical Storm Debbie on September 6, and it reached hurricane strength on the 7th. It moved northwestward, reaching a peak intensity of 120 mph on the 11th, but a trough of low pressure pushed Debbie northeastward towards unfavorable conditions. As Debbie raced northeastward, it maintained tropical characteristics until the 16th, when it became extratropical just southwest of Ireland, causing 11 deaths there. The remnants of the hurricane caused heavy damage across the United Kingdom.

Hurricane Esther

Hurricane Esther was a long-lasting hurricane and powerful Cape Verde-type hurricane that reached a peak intensity at Category 4 status. Esther threatened New England twice before hitting Maine as a tropical storm in late September. Esther was responsible for $6 million in damage in 1961 dollars ($37.4 million in 2005 dollars), but no direct deaths were reported. However, Esther did cause 7 indirect deaths when a Navy P5M aircraft crashed 120 miles off the coast of Bermuda.

Unnamed Tropical Storm

A tropical depression formed over the Bahamas on September 12th. It moved northward, and became a tropical storm just after hitting near Wilmington, North Carolina on the 14th. It remained weak as it raced through the East Coast states, dissipating on the 15th in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It is notably one of the fastest moving tropical cyclones in history.

Hurricane Frances

A westward moving tropical wave organized into a tropical depression on September 30, east of the northern Lesser Antilles. It crossed the islands the next day as a tropical storm, and turned northward as a disorganized system. The lack of divergence at high levels disallowed further strengthening until later. Frances hit the eastern tip of Dominican Republic on the 3rd, and continued north and northeastward. It was able to finally organize on the 4th, and Frances steadily strengthened to a 130 mph major hurricane. It turned to the northwest and posed a threat to Maine, but it turned abrubtly right. Moving over cooler waters, Frances gradually lost intensity, and became extratropical on the 9th near Nova Scotia.

Tropical Storm Gerda

The precursor to Tropical Storm Gerda was a tropical wave that developed on October 16 in the Caribbean Sea. The tropical depression moved slowly northward, moving over Jamaica that night and Cuba the next day. Upper-level shear kept the depression disorganized, but when it reached the Atlantic, the shear relaxed somewhat, allowing the depression to become a tropical storm on the 19th. Shortly after reaching a peak of 70 mph on the 20th while racing to the northeast, Gerda became extratropical, retaining its circulation for 2 more days until dissipating. Gerda caused 5 deaths in Jamaica and 7 in Cuba.

Hurricane Hattie

Hurricane Hattie, which formed in the Caribbean Sea on October 27, hit Central America as a strong Category 4. The storm caused enormous damage in Central America, with an estimated death toll of 265, almost all in Belize. Advance warning of the storm is credited with reducing the number of fatalities, as the storm was reportedly worse than a similar hurricane that killed 2,500 people in 1931. Hattie destroyed an estimated 40% of all buildings in Belize, and damaged half of those that remained; Belize City was damaged so heavily that the national government was relocated inland to Belmopan. Like Carla, Hattie was also classified posthumously as a Category 5 storm. Hattie held Category 5 intensity on the dates of October 30 and October 31, making it the latest Category 5 storm on record in the Atlantic basin.

When Hattie emerged into the Eastern Pacific, part of the cloud mass restrengthened into Tropical Storm Simone on November 1 as part of the 1961 Pacific hurricane season. It moved northwestward, and after reaching a peak of 50 mph, hit southern Mexico. It dissipated on the 3rd over the Bay of Campeche, although its remnants contributed to the formation of Tropical Storm Inga.

Hurricane Jenny

An area of disturbed weather, in connection with the development of a cut-off low in the upper troposphere over Puerto Rico, became a tropical depression over the northeastern Lesser Antilles on November 1. After moving northeastward, the tropical depression moved eastward in response to an upper level trough. Subtropical in nature, it was able to withstand the shear, and, after looping back to the west, became a tropical storm on the 6th. Later that day, Jenny became a hurricane, but as it turned northeastward, shear and cooler waters weakened it. Jenny became extratropical on the 8th.

Tropical Storm Inga

When Simone moved into the Gulf of Mexico, another area of Hattie's remnants developed into a tropical storm on November 5, the only time a tropical storm formed in the Gulf in the month of November. Inga's center moved westward, followed by a new center forming to the southeast. It drifted over the Bay of Campeche for the next few days, and after reaching a peak of 70 mph, dissipated on the 8th. Since Inga formed from the remnants of Simone (and therefore Hattie), it is likely to be considered the third part of the same tropical system's life cycle.

Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE) rating

ACE (104kt²) (2008 Atlantic hurricane season/ACE calcs) — Storm:
1 51.16 Esther 7 14.26 Anna
2 31.16 Betsy 8 4.38 Inga
3 30.04 Carla 9 3.85 Jenny
4 24.30 Debbie 10 1.57 Gerda
5 21.72 Hattie 11 0.61 Six
6 20.35 Frances
Total: 203.4 (205)

The table on the right shows the ACE for each storm in the season. ACE is, broadly speaking, a measure of the power of the hurricane multiplied by the length of time it existed, so storms that last a long time (like Bertha) as well as particularly strong hurricanes (like Ike), have high ACEs. ACE is only officially released for full advisories on tropical systems at or exceeding 34 knots (39 mph, 63 km/h) or tropical storm strength. Subtropical storms are not included in season totals.

Storm names

The following names were used for named storms (tropical storms and hurricanes) that formed in the North Atlantic in 1961. Names that were not assigned are marked in .

  • Hattie
  • Inga
  • Jenny
  • Retirement

    The names Carla and Hattie were later retired.

    See also


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