Hurricane CARLA Hits Texas Coast, Sept 1961
Hurricane Carla ranks as the most intense U.S. tropical cyclone landfall on the Hurricane Severity Index. The third named storm and first Category 5 hurricane of the 1961 Atlantic hurricane season, Carla developed from an area of squally weather in the southwestern Caribbean Sea on September 3. Initially a tropical depression, it strengthened slowly while heading northwestward, and by September 5, the system was upgraded to Tropical Storm Carla. About 24 hours later, Carla was upgraded to a hurricane. Shortly thereafter, the storm curved northward while approaching the Yucatán Channel. Late on September 7, Carla entered the Gulf of Mexico while passing just northeast of the Yucatán Peninsula. By early on the following day, the storm became a major hurricane after reaching Category 3 intensity. Resuming its northwestward course, Carla continued intensification and on September 11, it was upgraded to a Category 5 hurricane. Later that day, Carla weakened slightly, but was still a large and intense hurricane when the storm made landfall near Port O'Connor, Texas. It weakened quickly inland and was reduced to a tropical storm on September 12. Heading generally northward, Carla transitioned into an extratropical cyclone on September 13, while centered over southern Oklahoma. Rapidly moving northeastward, Carla's remnants reached the Labrador Sea, Canada and dissipated on September 17, 1961.
Carla spawned the largest hurricane-related tornado outbreak on record at the time, when 26 tornadoes touched down within its circulation. However, it was overwhelmingly surpassed by Hurricane Beulah in 1967, which spawned at least 115 tornadoes. Throughout its path, 43 fatalities and about $325.74 million in damage were attributed to Carla. Most of the impact occurred in Texas, where the storm made landfall as a large and strong Category 4 hurricane.
The most significant damage to property occurred between Port Arthur and Corpus Christi. Port O'Connor, lying nearest to the location of Carla's landfall, was virtually destroyed. In Victoria, the highest sustained wind speed was 110 mph (180 km/h), while gusts reached 150 mph (240 km/h). About 4,260 homes were damaged, with around 500 severely damaged or destroyed. 43 businesses and 26 public buildings were also significantly impacted. Damage in the city of Victoria reached $10 million. Of the 26 tornadoes spawned by Carla, eight of them in Texas caused significant impact. A tornado near Bay City destroyed two radio towers and damaged several buildings. Near Jacksonville, a tornado injured three people, caused the destruction of one house and impacted 3 others, resulting in $25,000 in damage. Twenty-two people were injured, 18 homes and 6 commercial buildings were destroyed, and 40 additional homes were damaged in a tornado in Channelview, located near Houston; losses reached $200,000. In the early morning hours of September 13, an F4 tornado moved across Galveston Island along a 15-mile (24-kilometer) long, 230-yard-wide path (it crossed into Galveston Bay as well), severely damaging 200 buildings, of which at least 60 were destroyed, and causing eight deaths and 55 injuries. A few hours later, another twister in the area resulted in the destruction of six houses and extensive lesser damage. In Hardin, a tornado damaged six homes. Several structures sustained impact during a tornado in Fulbright. The final twister occurred during the late afternoon hours in Latex. It caused two injuries, and resulted in $5,000 in losses, after damaging two houses and three garages.
Then little-known newsman Dan Rather reported live from the second floor of a building in Texas City during the storm, an act that would be imitated by later reporters. This marked the first live television broadcast of a hurricane. Rather also alerted the public of the size of Carla in a way that "literally changed the way the world sees hurricanes", according to a fellow reporter. Broadcasting live at the Weather Bureau Office in Galveston, Rather asked a meteorologist to draw an outline of the Gulf of Mexico on a transparent sheet of plastic. He then held the map over the black and white radar screen, which put the size of Carla into perspective, saying that Carla was the size of the Gulf of Mexico. CBS was so impressed with Rather's work that he was offered the position of correspondent. Throughout Texas, Carla destroyed 1,915 homes, 568 farm buildings, and 415 other buildings. Additionally, 50,723 homes, 5,620 farm buildings, and 10,487 other buildings suffered damage. There were 460 injuries according to the American Red Cross, though the Monthly Weather Review listed a slightly higher number, 465. The storm caused 34 fatalities in Texas. Causes of death include 20 people drowning, eight from tornadoes, four electrocutions, and one heart attack. Overall, damage in the state was "conservatively" estimated at $300 million. A breakdown of damage indicates $200 million incurred to property and $100 million to crops, mostly from unharvested rice and lesser impact to cotton and citrus.